Me, my family and melanoma

By Jessica Ball

“Are you wearing sunscreen?” my mum demands the moment I tell her I’m out on a walk while we catch up over the phone.

Every. Single. Time.

But it’s not just her motherly nature coming out.

Mum was only 30 when she had her first suspicious mole removed and in her 40s when her father died from melanoma.

My grandfather — known to all as Leo — was a hard-working farmer in the days long before ‘no hat, no play’ rules.

Mum remembers him carting hay in the middle of the day, shirtless with the sun belting down and a large spot on his chest.

By the time Leo went to the doctor it was too late and in the end he refused treatment that might have given him more time but couldn’t cure his cancer.

Every single time, I say, “of course I’m wearing sunscreen Mum!”. It’s a lie.

Despite my family history I never thought to slip, slop, slap for a 30-minute walk around the lake.

Sure, I’ll smother my pale white skin in sunscreen on the rare occasion I’m headed to the beach or on a hike, but not for a quick peek outside on an overcast day.

Just as I’ve neglected adding sunscreen to my beauty routine, I’d been putting off getting a skin check for years.

A few weeks ago I pitched this story in a ploy to make myself accountable and booked an appointment at Shepparton Skin Clinic.

Walking into Dr Stephen Hook’s office I was a little nervous, but a friendly chat about my family history and my skin put me at ease.

Then it was down to business.

I stripped down to my bra and underwear (not the full monty I had expected) before Dr Hook examined my skin while teaching me what signs to look for.

He circled eight spots with a marker.

A tiny imperfect circle with a speck of white in it on my forearm.

Two — one large and brown, the other skin colour and raised — hiding under my thick hair.

Two on my upper back that I can’t see for myself.

The multicoloured birth mark I’ve had all my life (myth busting my belief that birthmarks that grow hair are not at risk).

One just under my bum that had only appeared recently.

And one on my stomach.

One I know is larger than it used to be but I’m unsure if it’s grown at the same pace as my belly or faster.

Dr Hook described its multiple shades of brown, oddly shaped appearance as a textbook example of melanoma.

Those aren’t the words you want to hear on a Monday morning.

He assured me it was not a melanoma but I needed to keep an eye on it and its seven friends.

To help with this, a nurse took photos of each of the eight spots Dr Hook had circled and put them on a CD for me to take home and refer back to.

I left trying to remember why I had avoided a skin check for so long.

I thought it would be expensive; it wasn’t. A skin check cost me around $60 without private health cover.

I thought I was young enough not to be too worried; I’m not. A skin check reminded me that I’m not invincible.

I thought it would be uncomfortable; it wasn’t. A skin check is certainly less intrusive than a Brazilian wax.

Then I called my mum and told her that mother knows best.