GET SUPPORT GET CONNECTED Your Voices Charlotte What cancer were you diagnosed with? Skin cancer (Melanoma) What age were you diagnosed? 22 What has helped you to thrive? The support of my family and friends is what really got me through my diagnosis and the time after. Being able to talk about it, but when I was ready, and not being treated differently where the main things. I’m sure my friends would have been unsure how to act around me at first but by acting normally, it meant everything to me. In a time when my family were visibly affected by it, my friends were a good escape from the awful thing happening to me. We were doing the things we always did but if I felt I needed to talk about it, they were there for that too. Without a good support system, I don’t think I’d have coped as well as I did. It’s the same with my lymphedema diagnosis as a result of my cancer treatment. They let me rant, they ask questions and they show empathy. And to be honest, that’s all I ask for! Charlotte's Story It all started with a funny-looking mole on my leg. I’d been keeping an eye on it for a while and thought it’d been getting bigger. Stupidly, even though I was worried, I’d not really done anything about it. It’s only because I happened to mention to my mum about the mole that I had a doctors appointment. She booked me one straight away. I remember the feeling of panic before that appointment. I couldn’t breathe and my heart was beating incredibly fast. I remember thinking that if it was cancer, the doctor would tell me there and then. That wasn’t the case. He’d told me that he was referring me to the dermatologist, ‘as a precaution’. Two weeks later, I was going to the dermatologist for a biopsy. I can’t remember the time frame between the biopsy and the follow-up appointment but I know it wasn’t long. I could see that my mum was trying to act calm but I knew she was anything but. I went into the doctor’s room by myself and noticed how there was a nurse there. Trying to stay positive, I said hello. The doctor got straight to it. “Unfortunately, the biopsy’s come back to show that it’s Stage 1 melanoma.” I didn’t understand what melanoma was but from the sad look on his face, I knew it was cancer. They asked if they wanted my mum to come in so that they could tell her. I did. I think I was too in shock to say anything. As soon as she was called in, she knew it wasn’t good news. The sadness on her face is a horrific memory that will probably be engrained in my mind for the rest of my life. She started crying straight away. When we left the doctor’s room, we were sat outside a treatment room where we were waiting for me to get my stitches taken out by the skin cancer nurse. My mum was stressing about telling my dad and my sisters. I was very nonchalant about the whole thing, you know, it is what it is. It was only when I was talking to the nurse as she taking my stitches out that I broke down. I didn’t want my mum to see me cry. She was upset enough. This was an occurring theme throughout the whole cancer process. Never once did I cry in front of my parents each time I was told that the cancer was slightly worse than they first thought. I would go off in a separate room for a chat with the skin cancer nurse, sob in front of her and come out as if nothing had happened. I’m not sure if this was the healthiest coping mechanism but it made me feel better that my parents didn’t have to see me upset. Every time I was given the bad news, I’d go back to work. I work as a teacher but luckily, these appointments were on Wednesdays when I PPA in the afternoons. Again, I’d cry in front of my colleagues and let my headteacher know. Every time, my mum reminded me that I didn’t need to go back to school. They would understand. But I almost felt like I needed time away from home to process the news by myself, away from my upset parents. One thing I noticed was that every medical professional I met made a comment along the lines of, “Gosh, you’re so young”. I didn’t know if that was meant to make me feel better? Worse? But what was evident is that my age, 22 at the time, affected them. They weren’t saying it to make me feel worse. They were saying it because most of them had children, siblings or other relatives that were around my age and they saw how unfair the whole thing was. I will be eternally grateful to the staff at New Cross hospital and Russell’s Hall for everything they did for, and my family. Luckily, three operations and a lymphoedema diagnosis later, I am cancer free as of September 2019. Of course, I’ve got to regularly check myself and have my check ups at the hospital for the next few years but I am thankful that I can say, I am still here and I’m still living. I now encourage as many people as I can to educate themselves about skin cancer and the dangers of the sun. I registered my school as a Sun Safe school, informing the parents on how to keep safe in the sun and told the children themselves. The doctors I saw said that it was probably a sun burn in my childhood that actually caused the whole thing which is why I’m so passionate about parents getting it right! I remember feeling so annoyed, even angry, that this horrible disease could have been prevented with something as simple as sun cream. I don’t blame my parents in any way, as the timing meant I would have been about 13. A skinny 13 year old who wouldn’t wear sun cream on her legs during school breaks or P.E. lessons. That’s why I feel it’s so important for all schools to spread as much awareness about it as they can. You’ll find me shouting “SLIP, SLOP, SLAP” ‘til the cows come home, that’s for sure!