A MUM was diagnosed with deadly skin cancer twice in two years – after a decade of abusing sunbeds.
Sarah Carlick lived by the rule that if you didn’t come home sunburnt, you “hadn’t been on holiday”.
The bright businesswoman used sunbeds to build up a “base tan” before going away – and failed to regularly use sun cream, preferring tanning oil to make her skin fry.
Yet, the mum-of-one, who has a PhD, claims she had no idea that sun damage causes skin cancer.
Now, warning others of the dangers, the 45-year-old said: “Sun damage is the new smoking.
“I see people sunbathing and want to run up and tell them to stop.
“People are killing themselves and they just don’t realise.”
Sarah, who is mum to Ella, nine, was first diagnosed with stage one melanoma in January 2012 – getting the all clear just a month later.
But, last year the disease returned, and this time doctors told Sarah her cancer was stage three.
She’s undergoing targeted drug treatment, which will finish in February next year.
Growing up in the 70s, Sarah blames a lack of education for her ignorance when it comes to sun damage and the links with cancer.
She spent summers travelling the south of France in a caravan with mum Ros Carlick, who died of ovarian cancer in 2013, dad Ellis and sister Susan Shell, 48.
“If you didn’t come back home with a burnt neck and shoulders, you hadn’t been on holiday with my family,” she said.
Sun damage is the new smoking. People are killing themselves and they just don’t realise
Sarah Carlick, 45
“I’m in no way blaming my parents, it was a sign of the times – we were all ignorant.
“The attitude to sunburn was very much grin and bear it and wait for it to go down.”
Sarah’s family even bought a portable sunbed to use at home, using it to build a “base tan” before heading abroad.
Looking back now, the 45-year-old said she’s shocked at how clueless they were.
“I can’t believe how often I would use the sunbed at home,” she said.
“It must have been for at least 10 years, but once again it was just pure ignorance.
What does melanoma look like?
Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body, but is most common on the back, legs, arms and face.
The deadliest form of skin cancer can spread to other organs in the body.
The most common indication of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole.
Watch out for moles that are:
- Getting bigger
- Changing shape
- Changing colour
- Bleeding or getting crusty
- Itchy or painful
“I thought it was safer to build up a gradual tan, before exposing yourself to hotter climates.
“I never in a million years thought it caused damage – especially not cancer.”
In January 2012, as her mum Ros battled ovarian cancer, Sarah noticed a crusty mole on the back of her shoulder.
She went to see her GP, and was referred to the Royal Preston Hospital, where doctors took a sample of the mole and sent it off for testing.
Two weeks later, the results confirmed she had stage one melanoma.
Thankfully, they had caught it early so the disease had not yet spread to the lymph nodes, or other organs.
Sarah had the mole removed, as well as some of the surrounding tissue, but needed no further treatment.
Sadly, while Sarah was given the all clear, her mum was less fortunate and passed away in February 2013, a year after her daughter’s surgery.
“Losing Mum was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been through, it was so hard seeing her at the end, after going through rounds of chemotherapy,” she said.
“When I received my diagnosis, she was so worried I’d have to go through the same, but luckily I didn’t – and I think that was a great relief to her.”
For years, Sarah was free of the disease.
She spent five years working towards her PhD, but just weeks before her graduation, in November last year she spotted an unusual lump on her collar bone.
“I was getting ready for a meeting and I clocked the lump in the mirror,” she said.
“It was exactly the same as last time. I just stared in the mirror and cried.”
Once again she visited her GP, and once more she was referred for a biopsy.
Then, on December 12 last year, she was given the crushing diagnosis once more – it was melanoma, but this time it was stage three and had spread to her lymph nodes.
She said: “It didn’t feel real – in a way it still doesn’t.
“I couldn’t get my head around how something as simple as a mole or lump could lead to something as serious as stage three cancer.”
On January 8, Sarah had another local excision operation, as well as having roughly 20 lymph nodes removed, at The Christie Hospital in Greater Manchester.
After a successful procedure, she was put on a 12-month course of targeted drug therapy, a form of treatment for melanoma that stops cancer cells from dividing and growing.
Seven months on, she has cancelled an upcoming holiday to Australia in October with Ella to focus on her recovery.
Now working with North West Cancer Research, Sarah is campaigning to encourage people to use the necessary protection from the sun and to check their skin regularly for any abnormalities.
MORE ON SKIN CANCER
Speaking out as Britain has been gripped by a heatwave, with temperatures reaching record breaking highs, she said: “My entire attitude to the sun has been turned on its head.
“I would never dream of letting Ella go out in the sun unprotected. Instead she’s covered from head to toe in factor 50 sunscreen and protective clothing.
“If we knew what we did about sun damage when I was growing up, I honestly believe that I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in today.
“Ignorance is a killer. Sun tans last a few weeks, while a cancer diagnosis stays with you for life.”
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