health

The photos every Australian needs to see right now.

Melbourne woman Meghan Doherty, 34, had a small clear mole on her forehead since she was 17, and she’d never taken much notice of it.

Out of vanity, she’d enquired about whether to have it taken off a number of years ago, but decided against it learning that the scar would be bigger than the mole itself.

Accepting it as part of her character, she learnt to live with it, and as a kindergarten teacher and mother of two small children, she was used to the kids ‘beeping’ it occasionally – all part of the fun.

“One of my dad’s good mates, recently passed away from skin cancer. It crossed my mind to get the mole checked on my forehead. Finding time around the children and work, as you know, is always hard, you always put yourself last on the list, so I was in no rush. I finally went to the GP and he said I needed to get it looked at by a specialist.”

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Meghan's mole before the surgery. Image: Supplied.

Again, Doherty says she wasn’t in any hurry.

“I really wasn’t concerned about it. The specialist actually chased me up and called me to get me to book an appointment, Of course, instead of making time and going straight away, I remember thinking, I’m pretty busy at the moment and pushed it out until the school holidays.”

Finally making it to the appointment in July this year, the specialist took one look at it and said it needed a biopsy. He did it there and then.

“The next day I got the call. He said it was a Basal Cell Carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Although fortunately not as aggressive as melanoma, I still couldn’t believe it was the ‘big C’.”

Doherty said she was in shock.

“Like many people, I’ve always thought of skin cancer as being an older man’s disease. You don’t think of it really affecting younger people or women so much. Which is crazy really, considering a lot of us used to sunbathe when we were younger or use solariums. You also don’t think it’s ever going to happen to you.”

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meghan doherty
Meghan post-operation. Images: Supplied.

Doherty met up with the surgeon a few days later.

“It was quite surreal, he talked about how much would need to be cut out to make sure we get out all the cancer. Again with skin cancer, you just think they’ll whip the mole off and you get on with your life, you don’t think about the mental and physical effects of it.”

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Meghan's wound after she removed her bandage. Image: Supplied.

Doherty says fortunately the results have come back and they have managed to remove all the cancer. She has to wear the tape on her head for the next six months and can’t expose it to sunlight for the next 12 months.

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“I’m wearing a beanie a lot [in] winter” she laughs. “It could come back locally so I’ll always have to have it checked. Already the scar is looking better, but at the end of the day, I’ll have a cross scar on my forehead forever. The irony is that originally I didn’t want to get it taken off for vanity reasons.”

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Meghan's scar now. Image: Supplied.

Being very brave not only in living through her experience, but being prepared to share her story and images, she hopes that it encourages everyone, no matter how old or young, to get their skin checked regularly.

“And in terms of your health, even if you have kids, don’t keep putting yourself at the bottom of the list,” she says.

With summer coming up and more of us spending time in the sunshine, the timing of this health warning is particularly pertinent.

To highlight how important it is to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide, and get your skin regularly checked, SunSmart Manager Heather Walker says: “Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia with two in three people diagnosed by the age of 70.”

When you look at your own friends and family and imagine that two out of three of them will get diagnosed with skin cancer, one which could be you, it brings the reality of skin cancer home.

Although statistically men are more than twice as likely to die from melanoma (the most deadly form of skin cancer) Walker says: “Anyone can get skin cancer, and many people don’t realise that skin cancer can also affect younger people. Whilst cancer is rare in younger people, melanoma is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australians aged 15-29.”

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Meghan now usually wears a bandage to conceal the scar. Image: Supplied.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2014 there were over 358,000 incidents (number of paid Medicare services) of non-melanoma skin cancers in women in Australia and more than 5400 cases of women diagnosed with melanoma. Among women it is expected that melanoma will continue to increase to about 45 new cases diagnosed per 100,000 women in 2020, equating to approximately 6790 cases per year.

Walker says to keep yourself safe: “SunSmart recommends you get to know your skin and what looks ‘normal’ for you. Check your own skin regularly for any new spots or spots that have changed in shape, size or colour. If you find anything unusual, see your doctor as soon as possible.”

If it is found early, Walker explains, most skin cancer can be successfully treated. But she stresses that prevention is better than cure. “In Australia, between 95 and 99 per cent of skin cancers are caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. So by using good sun protection at any age, you can reduce your risk.”

SunSmart recommends checking the sun protection times each day on the free SunSmart app or at the Bureau of Meteorology website. During these times, Australians are urged to:

- Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible.

- Slop on sunscreen labelled SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum and water-resistant and re-apply every two hours, or more often if you’re sweating, swimming or towel drying.

- Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades the face, neck and ears.

- Seek shade, where possible.

- Slide on sunglasses.

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