Young mum Rachael Lee who loved to tan on the beach describes horror

Young mum who loved to tan on the beach without sunscreen shows the TINY freckle that saw her diagnosed with skin cancer – and the signs every Aussie needs to watch out for

  • Rachael Lee, 35, is no stranger to the much-loved Australian beach weather 
  • But the discovery of a skin cancer two years ago has completely changed view
  • It’s Skin Cancer Awareness Week in Australia so Rachael is speaking out
  • Naked Sundays founder Samantha Brett tried to educate Aussies about SPF
  • She created a number of floaties and gave them out at Bondi Beach on Saturday 

An Australian mum has warned against tanning this summer season after being diagnosed with a melanoma in her early 30s.

Rachael Lee, 35, who lives in Sydney, is no stranger to the much-loved Australian beach weather and freely admits she didn’t wear sunscreen before heading out for a day at the beach.

But the discovery of a skin cancer two years ago has completely changed her view on the topic and she now slathers on SPF50+ even on days when it’s ‘rainy and dark’.

Nothing was noticeably awry about her skin when the young mum went for her first check up in 2020, only to find out an inconspicuous freckle on her stomach was to be labelled cancerous.  

Rachael Lee, 35, who lives in Sydney, is no stranger to the much-loved Australian beach weather and freely admits she didn't wear sunscreen before heading out for a day at the beach

Rachael Lee, 35, who lives in Sydney, is no stranger to the much-loved Australian beach weather and freely admits she didn’t wear sunscreen before heading out for a day at the beach

Nothing was noticeably awry about her skin when the young mum went for her first check up in 2020, only to find out an inconspicuous freckle on her stomach was to be labelled cancerous

Nothing was noticeably awry about her skin when the young mum went for her first check up in 2020, only to find out an inconspicuous freckle on her stomach was to be labelled cancerous

‘I didn’t notice anything at all. I had quite a few freckles but they all looked normal. I was a big tanner and didn’t wear sunscreen, and I barely got my skin checked,’ she told FEMAIL.

‘Although on this occasion I did have a check up. The doctor found a tiny dot. It was just a tiny dark freckle so I didn’t think it could ever be skin cancer. 

‘But after the test results came back, the doctor rang to say “sorry to let you know, but you have Stage 1 Melanoma”. It was the biggest shock of my life.’

Ms Lee thought she was going to ‘die’ after hearing about the ‘tiny dot’ and what it meant because she didn’t ‘know anything’ about melanomas.

Melanoma is the most common cancer for the 20 to 39 age group to get in Australia, partly because of our outdoor lifestyle and harsh climate. 

Ms Lee thought she was going to 'die' after hearing about the 'tiny dot' and what it meant because she didn't 'know anything' about melanomas

Melanoma is the most common cancer for the 20 to 39 age group to get in Australia, partly because of our outdoor lifestyle and harsh climate

Ms Lee thought she was going to ‘die’ after hearing about the ‘tiny dot’ and what it meant because she didn’t ‘know anything’ about melanomas

It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours. 

‘I didn’t think it was a young person’s disease. I had no idea you could be diagnosed in your early 30s. I was absolutely gutted,’ she said.

Ms Lee booked in to see a specialist and have the skin cancer cut out.

She will need to get a check up every three months to keep track of it but the doctors are confident they got every skin cell.  

Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.  

Causes

  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk

Treatment 

  • Removal of the melanoma:

This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

  • Skin grafting: 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 

Prevention

  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society

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‘I had never used sunscreen before and I would constantly burn. Now I will not leave the house without being fully covered in sunscreen, even if it’s raining and dark, I will still wear sunscreen! I am religious with it,’ she said.

Ms Lee’s love for tanning has certainly fallen to the wayside since her diagnosis and she no longer puts being ‘dark and tanned’ first. 

‘You don’t realise how important health is, and if you don’t have health you don’t have anything. So now I am just hoping everyone puts their sunscreen on, covers up, and enjoys the sun but in a sensible way,’ she said.

Founder of Naked Sundays – a range of SPF-derived skincare products – Samantha Brett told FEMAIL that Ms Lee’s message is important for Australians to digest. 

Founder of Naked Sundays - a range of SPF-derived skincare products - Samantha Brett told FEMAIL that Ms Lee's message is important for Australians to digest

Founder of Naked Sundays – a range of SPF-derived skincare products – Samantha Brett told FEMAIL that Ms Lee’s message is important for Australians to digest

‘Skin cancer is so prevalent in Australia. In fact, skin cancer accounts for the largest number of cancers diagnosed in Australia each year and not a lot of people know that,’ she said.

‘Sun safety is such a simple way to help prevent skin cancer and people don’t realise just how simple and cheap it is to wear sunscreen, wear their hat and stay out of direct sunlight where possible.’

Unfortunately Australian beach culture makes it difficult to imagine life where we’re not outdoors all the time and frolicking in our good weather, but it comes with risks. 

Samantha and her team took to Bondi Beach over the weekend with giant floaties to raise awareness about wearing sunscreen and reapplying every two hours

Samantha and her team took to Bondi Beach over the weekend with giant floaties to raise awareness about wearing sunscreen and reapplying every two hours

What are the warning signs of melanoma?

The first five letters of the alphabet are a guide to help you recognise the warning signs of melanoma.

A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.

B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.

C is for Colour. Multiple colours are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colours red, white or blue may also appear.

D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm, or ΒΌ inch in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. Rare, amelanotic melanomas are colourless.

E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, colour or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

Source: Skincancer.org 

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Samantha and her team took to Bondi Beach over the weekend with giant floaties to raise awareness about wearing sunscreen and reapplying every two hours. 

‘Going to Bondi Beach and talking about sun protection to beachgoers on the weekend is helping educate people about sun safety, while making it fun at the same time,’ she said.

‘If people can view wearing sunscreen and sun safety as something that is extremely fun and simple to do, then more and more people will get on board.’

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