Kath Sorrell lives in Ipswich - she was 39 years old when she spotted a small mole on her leg which was different to the others on the rest of her body. Kath knew it didn't look right and went to her GP for advice but it was to be some time before her skin cancer was formally diagnosed. This is her story.
THE MOLE THAT DIDN'T LOOK RIGHT
In the summer of 2012 I noticed a small mole just next to my right knee which was a lot darker than other moles I had. I thought I’d had this mole for some time but didn’t recall it being quite so dark … I wasn’t particularly worried as I was always under the impression that people with fair skin, which burns easily, were more likely to get skin cancer and as I have always tanned really easily and very rarely got burnt I honestly thought I was immune to skin cancer. In fact, I had always been the envy of my fair skinned friends when we were younger and going on holiday as I would tan very easily and go instantly brown – insisting that no sun cream with a factor more than 4 would go near my body! I’d start the holiday on factor 4, then move to factor 2 and finishing off the holiday with zero factor oil! From 1994 to 1999 I lived and worked overseas as a holiday rep, spending long hot summers (and winters) in places such as Jamaica, Cuba, The Gambia, Tenerife, Ibiza, Majorca, Dominic Republic. I very rarely used suncream throughout this time because I thought I was immune as I was living in the sun and so my skin was used to it.
I’m not a particularly “molely” person but I do have a few small ones located around my body. I wouldn’t usually have been particularly fussed about this mole but I remembered a friend of mine had seen a skin cancer specialist when he was travelling around Australia as he is a very “moley” person and what stuck in my mind was that the doctor told him "you don’t have to worry about the larger moles – it’s the small, dark ones you need to worry about" so this did get me thinking. Something else which was niggling me was that a friend of mine had found a mole a few years earlier which had indeed turned out to be a malignant melanoma (the most severe form of skin cancer). Fortunately she’d had it removed and still remains cancer free to this day. Now this particular friend of mine had similar skin to me – dark skin which instantly tans and never appears to burn. I had previously thought that people with this type of skin were immune to skin cancer and was very shocked that out of all my friends, it was her who had suffered with skin cancer … surely it would have been one of my fairer skinned friends I thought .. proving how wrong I was to think like this!!
LET'S GET THIS MOLE CHECKED OUT
So I decided I should check with a doctor just to be on the safe side about this small, dark mole of mine. The GP I saw was really lovely and said she thought the mole looked fine and as the only difference I had noticed was a slight change in colour she wasn’t particularly concerned. I was also pregnant with my third child at the time and she advised me that pregnancy can make your skin pigmentation change colour so put this down to why my mole had got darker. I went away feeling slightly silly for thinking there was anything wrong with it and apologised for wasting her time. Ella was born in February 2013 and my time was kept very busy with a new baby and also looking after my other children.
THAT NAGGING FEELING
Ella turned six months old in August 2013 and I remember thinking my mole was still very dark. Surely if it was pregnancy related as to why it had changed colour then it should have faded back to normal colour by now as I hadn’t been pregnant for six months and I wasn’t breastfeeding either so I felt my hormones should have returned to normal by now. I decided to leave it a bit longer to see if it faded.
When, in September 2013, my mole was still very, very dark I thought I would return to the GP and ask why it hadn’t returned to the same colour as my other moles. This time the GP was not so friendly and after examining my mole, explained that I only needed to worry about moles if they were changing shape and colour within a matter of weeks, if they were bleeding or looked like some of the disgusting internet images of bad moles (or words to that effect!). He told me to measure it and go back to him if it grew significantly within a matter of weeks. I definitely came away from there feeling very bad for wasting his time! I came home, measured my mole and took a photo – it was only about 3mm so nothing to worry about I thought.
SHOULD I GO BACK AND GET THIS MOLE CHECKED OUT AGAIN?
Nearly a year passed and I regularly measured my mole to see if it was growing or changing shape. It wasn’t so everything's OK I thought. Late summer 2014 and I still had a nagging feeling in my mind about this mole and I can’t put this down to any reason except remembering my friend visiting that Australian skin cancer specialist who told him it was the small, dark moles you need to worry about and also thinking about my friend with very dark skin who had skin cancer therefore making me not as immune as I had thought! I decided another trip to the GP was in order, even if I was wasting their time. I thought maybe they could refer me to a specialist who could put my mind at rest and even remove the mole so I didn’t have to worry.
September 2014 I went back to the GP – this time she was definitely friendlier than the last one. She examined the mole and said I had nothing to worry about. I pushed for a referral to the hospital to have it removed and she said that in order to refer me she had to tick two changes on her form and as the only change was the colour this didn’t meet the criteria for a referral. I immediately lied and said I had noticed it had been very itchy over the previous few weeks and finally she said she would then be able to make a referral as that was two changes.
More on Kath's story to follow