Monday 28 August 2017

Fun in the sun – or playing a dangerous game?

Sunshine: It lifts our mood because it boosts serotonin. It provides us with vitamin D. It is essential for absorbing calcium, keeping our bones healthy, and for protecting against serious chronic diseases later in life such as osteoporosis. It gives us more energy and allows for an outdoor lifestyle.

I love to be bathed in sunshine and for the past four years, my husband Trav and I have been following the sun around the world, so that we can live in perpetual sunshine. I love the beach. I love swimming in the sea and the ocean. I love being on a boat. I love running around in shorts and a vest – and even better - a bikini. I love exposing my skin to the sun.

And guess what…. I never use sun screen.

I can hear you gasp. ‘No Sunscreen! Are you crazy?’

I don’t think I’m crazy because I’m careful to limit my time exposed to the sun and then I simply cover up. I tan easily and I never let myself burn - my skin is tanned from long slow exposure to the sun. I always have a hat, a cover up and a sarong.

That said - this year I noticed some strange new moles appear on my body. There were two on my back and two on the top on my leg. I decided that if they changed shape or colour or got much bigger, then I would do something about them - i.e. I would get them checked out. The only thing is, when you are constantly travelling from place to place, it’s difficult to know where to go to get checked out with any medical concerns.

But when I was in the Perhentian Islands at a turtle sanctuary (you can read about this amazing trip HERE) and I met a lovely lady called Sally from Kuala Lumpur while we were out on a boat trip together in our swimsuits, we somehow got chatting about moles. Not the wee rodents that might dig up your garden but the ones that appear on your skin. I showed Sally my new moles, and she suggested that I should get them checked out and that when we both got back to KL she would take me to see a skin specialist.

Thanks to Sally, I got an appointment with Dr Tan at the private Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur straight away. That really is his name - I didn't make it up.

I’d never been to a private hospital before – and this one looked pretty fancy – they even had valet parking at the entrance. I soon discovered that Dr Tan is a Consultant Plastic Surgeon as well as a skin specialist and, after a short wait in his reception area, I got to meet him. I found he was a friendly, delightful, and impressively qualified professional who had trained in London and Edinburgh. Dr Tan told me that the two moles on my back and one at the top of my leg were nothing at all to be concerned about – just normal moles – and that he could remove them straight away BUT that he was concerned about the other one at the top of my leg which would certainly need a biopsy.

Dr Tan asked me how long I was staying in Kuala Lumpur and I replied ‘just a few days’. But, when he looked me kindly in the eye and suggested that I stuck around for a week until he had the biopsy results, I started to feel a bit worried.

I wish I’d taken a photo of the suspicious mole to show you before it was removed for biopsy but I didn’t – but to describe it – it wasn’t a regular shape like the others as it had raggedy edges and was mottled in colour (light and dark brown) and neither was it raised above the skin like the others – this one was flat and under the skin.

So just a short while after consulting with Dr Tan in his surgery I found myself on his operating table with two nurses in attendance and Dr Tan providing local anaesthetics to each mole (that really stung!) and wielding his laser and then carefully cutting out the suspicious one for biopsy.

During the consultation, I also thought to mention the two unsightly rough brown spots that I had on either side of my face. This was purely a vanity thing - but as I was in the hands of a top plastic surgeon - I asked Dr Tan if he could burn them off too and he was happy to oblige!

Trav and I then extended our stay in KL and waited for the results of the biopsy while I healed.

You are probably thinking that seeing a top surgeon in a private hospital in Kuala Lumpur would cost a fortune – and I was rather afraid that it might.

I was initially hoping that my travel/health insurance policy might cover it. 

Imagine what such a bill would be in Europe or the USA or Canada for instance?

But, as my total bill for all the treatment here in Kuala Lumpur came to less than £400 GBP, I didn’t even have to bother putting it through my insurance. 

How amazing is that?

I do know that in the UK I could have seen a specialist for free under the NHS – but how long would it have taken for me to even get an appointment? And, if I did turn out to have skin cancer, surely a timely initial appointment would make a huge difference to a healthy outcome?

The biopsy results took just five days to land in my inbox and to my great relief, it was good news. The mole was not malignant skin cancer. It was a Seborrheic Keratosis - a type of harmless skin growth that bears a resemblance to skin cancer. I was very fortunate indeed.

So what now? A lesson learned?

Life is for living and I love living in sunshine...

Well, I’m now using sunscreen on my face and wearing a hat even more to shade my face and hopefully stop the brown patches reappearing on my now brown-patch-free face. I’m still happy not to use sunscreen on my body to be honest – my moles were not cancerous melanoma - so I’ll continue to get a bit of sun but to then cover up to prevent getting sunburned as I've always done.

Life is for living and I love living in the sun.

What about you? Do you too love sunbathing? Do you use sunscreen?

Love, Janice xx