"I never thought it would be cancer": Stage 4 melanoma patient recalls receiving her diagnosis 1 month ago

"I never thought it would be cancer": Stage 4 melanoma patient recalls receiving her diagnosis

"Growing up we wouldn’t have had any skin protection measures..."

A new form of skin cancer treatment that replaces chemotherapy with calcium could become available for patients as early as this year.

Breakthrough Cancer Research announced the news this week to coincide with their new campaign, 'Let's Get To 100% Together.'

Launched by athlete and broadcaster Anna Geary, the initiative is aiming to educate people about the importance of skin care protection and to eventually achieve a 100 percent survival rate.

Skin cancer diagnoses in Ireland have doubled over the past decade and are only continuing to rise. The country also has the highest mortality rate from melanoma in Europe, with a new survey revealing that 73 percent of Irish adults patch burn regularly.

Only 45 percent of people reported seeking medical advice for a patch of skin they were worried about.

Kay Curtin is a Stage 4 melanoma patient and patient advocate from Tipperary.

Having been diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2004 and later progressing to Stage 4 in 2015, Kay recalls being shocked to discover that she had skin cancer.

Kay Curtin 

"I didn’t really know a lot about it," she tells Her. "I knew a cousin who had had it but that was it. I didn’t know what caused it, or what prevented it.

"Growing up we wouldn’t have had any skin protection measures. There was no sunscreen, and we didn’t go on foreign holidays, it was always places like Tramore and Ardmore, but we still would have gotten burned badly. We were out in the sun a lot without any protection."

Kay remembers going for a routine doctor's appointment with her six month old son in 2004. She was living in London at the time, and had been experiencing a slight discomfort in her back - a pain that she presumed was being caused by her bra strap.

"There was a mole there too, but it was more irritating than anything else," she says. "I never thought it would be cancer.

"The doctor took a look and gave me a referral for a legion clinic in London. They had a look at it and they started asking questions and it was then that light bulbs started going off in my head. They were asking me about my family history of skin cancer, if I had been burned as a child, or if I ever did sun beds.

"The dermatologist was very reassuring. They said they’d take the mole off to be cautious. And to be honest, I didn’t think very much of it after that, but as the weeks wore on and I was waiting on my appointment, I did start to feel more concerned.

"I was awake for the procedure, and I was chatting away to the surgeon, but when I went back to have the stitches taken out, everything changed."

It was then that Kay was informed that she had malignant melanoma - an aggressive form of skin cancer with a five year survival rate of of 92 percent.

Anna Geary for Breakthrough's new campaign 

Kay says that she had presumed the removal of the mole would mark the end of her hospital visits, and that she wouldn't have to worry about her health going forward.

"I had been naive in a way," she says. "I had to meet with an oncologist after that and that’s a very frightening experience, even walking into that ward, that part of the hospital. It’s very surreal.

"I was offered a place on a clinic trial [that was eventually called off] and I had three small children at the time so I wanted to do anything I could to minimise the risk of the cancer coming back.

“I was fine for about 10 years. I moved back to Ireland with my family, we settled, built a new house and got on with life.

"I was always extra vigilant in the sun, especially with the children. I was putting it all behind me. But then it progressed to Stage 4 in 2015.”

Since her diagnosis, Kay has been an avid member of Melanoma Support Ireland, helping with the day-to-day running of the the group and providing much needed support for those who have received a similar diagnosis.

Kay says that although Ireland has come a long way since the days of burning on family holidays in Tramore, she knows that a lot of people are still naive to the very real dangers the sun can cause.

“We tend to forget that we should be using sun cream as a last line of defence, instead of a get out of jail free card," says Kay.

"People do that so they can spend as long as possible in the sun, but that’s not how we should be using sun cream. We need to be doing other things too like finding shade from the sun, keeping out of it, and wearing hats.

"I still go on foreigns holidays but I take precautions. This time last year I was away and it was 33 degrees but I didn’t burn. I still enjoyed my time but I didn’t come back looking like a lobster, like so many other Irish people do.”

You can find out more about Breakthrough's research and their new campaign here.