"I think deep down I knew it could be something but didn’t think anything would happen to me. I'd had the mole a long time and I was showing no obvious symptoms that anything could be wrong."
Nicola was attending a routine ante-natal appointment when the nurse noticed a large mole on her arm. Within a few weeks she was parked outside Asda, with her sons, being told she had melanoma skin cancer.
This is her story...
I was around 5 months pregnant, attending my routine whooping cough and flu vaccination at my local GP surgery. The nurse noticed the large sticky-out mole on my upper left arm, just before my shoulder. She asked whether I'd had it checked and I explained I had been meaning to, and family kept asking me to, but between two young boys at home and working I hadn't gotten around to it. She did not let me leave until I had a doctors appointment the next day to get it checked.
I attended the appointment and the doctor referred me to get the mole removed and tested. A few weeks later I attended a hospital appointment with the dermatologist who removed the mole and then I just got on with my every day life, I never expected to hear any bad/negative news. I was sure that all would be fine. I had been on the sunbeds (prior to being pregnant) and, yes, the mole was rather large and dark looking, and I had knocked it a few times and it had bled. I think deep down I knew it could be something but didn’t think anything would happen to me. I had had it a long time and I was showing no obvious symptoms that anything could be wrong.
When I received the call from the dermatologist with the results, I had just pulled up into Asda car park with my two children. I heard him clearly say: 'Do you remember I told you that it could be melanoma skin cancer? Well I’m afraid to tell you it is’.
I went numb. I could not talk about it in front of my children so I text my husband to say he needed to meet me at home, as he was in work. Having the boys with me I went into shock mode and tried to keep going; I still did some shopping and acted as normal as I could. I was worried all the way around the supermarket about how I would break the news to my husband, as his mother had passed away a few years before due to melanoma. He was upset, but immediately made arrangements to come with me to the hospital the next morning.
I felt I had to be strong for him and my family, but all I could think about was my unborn baby: what did this mean for him?!
The dermatologist tried his best to reassure us, explaining he would refer us to a specialist plastic surgeon in Liverpool as they had more experience in dealing with pregnant women with melanoma. The surgeons there were amazing. They were very thorough, very clear, very helpful and reassuring, explaining everything to me and answering all our questions. They arranged for surgery to check my armpit area, as this would be the first place the cancer would spread due to the lymph-nodes. However, my waters broke nine weeks early so the surgery was postponed. I believe that the stress my body and mind was under made my little man decide to make an unexpected early arrival.
The surgery was re-scheduled for after my six weeks of healing, post-birth; having an emergency c-section, they wanted to allow my body to recover. This caused some worry and was hard on my family as they did not want to wait any longer in case the cancer had spread. My priority was supporting and being there for my premature baby, so I did not mind waiting the extra six weeks. We had to trust the professionals and they were happy to wait.
It was a very difficult and emotional day going in for surgery, especially as I was on my own due to Covid rules and my husband needing to be at home with our children. It was also a relief to be getting it done.
The wait between each appointment and awaiting results etc. is very anxiety provoking but the health professionals work as fast as they possibly can.
I had a lymph node biopsy and they discovered the cancer had spread to two lymph-nodes, so they were removed there and then.
I was now cancer free, but they offered me the immunotherapy risk reduction treatment. Despite there being a high number of potential side effects I would not have forgiven myself if I had not given it a go. Luckily my body handled it all and responded well to the treatment, which happened every six weeks for a year, and I have recently rung the bell to say I have completed my treatment.
I will now be seen every 3 months for the next three years to have scans and check ups which is very reassuring, especially for someone as freckly and with as many moles as me. I am currently awaiting another biopsy as my healthcare team identified a freckle, that they describe as an 'ugly duckling', for testing.
If I could pass on any advice about melanoma skin cancer it would be: definitely do not go on sun-beds and always use sun protection when your skin is exposed to the sun. It is also important to check yourself regularly; look out for any lumps and bumps and also look for any markings on your body that do look slightly darker in colour or slightly bigger compared to the rest of the moles/freckles/lesions on your body. I never thought any of this would or could have happened to me at 33 years of age. Please go and get anything checked you are not happy with. The sooner you spot anything and get it diagnosed, the best chance you have of beating it.