‘No sun tan is worth risking your life for’ - says a mum-of-two after describing her horrific cancer experience.
Sarah Brookes is fighting for her future after being diagnosed with stage four melanoma.
And she’s backing a campaign by Melanoma UK to ban commercial sun beds in the UK, saying the link to cancer cannot be ignored.
The 41-year-old says she has “every intention of being here in 10 years time” despite the advanced cancer and is trying every wonder drug and treatment option available.
Now she’s talked of the wider impact, saying: “I was an active person, I ran three and a half miles every night, now I need to use a scooter to get around.
“I’ve had to leave my job, my children have had to pick me up off the bathroom floor, I’ve had to tell my mum she’ll be burying me - no sun tan is worth that.
“It’s like an atom bomb went off. I’m at the centre of it and it ripples out and affects everything and everyone in my life.
“But I’m a fighter, I’ve every intention of still being here in 10 years time, I’m not giving up.
“And I want people to read this and think ‘do I really need to use a sun bed?’ the answer is always no.”
It was April 2016 when her son first spotted a flat growth behind her ear.
She was misdiagnosed and it was four vital months later when it had grown into a lump that she finally got a diagnosis.
“It was out of sign out of mind,” she said. “My mum saw the lump and said ‘what’s that? You can get yourself to the doctors first thing” and it went from there.”
Sarah described the diagnosis as a “whirl”, adding the consultant broke the news to her in a meeting lasting just a few minutes, then told her she’d be referred to St James’ Leeds for “belt and braces treatment” and to wait on a bench to speak to a cancer nurse.
“I didn’t know what melanoma was,” she said. “It was scary, I started doing research online which was the worst thing I could do, but I started my education of melanoma.”
Sarah has faced four operations so far plus radiotherapy and chemotherapy, as well as a neck dissection and gamma knife therapy.
She thought she was winning, but further scans revealed brain tumours which move her diagnosis to stage 4 - the highest and most challenging stage to treat.
“I’m putting a brave face on it,” said Sarah. “I’m fighting every day and I want to use my experience to prevent anyone else going through this.”
Sarah was never a sun-worshiper, but when she was asked to be a bridesmaid she was told by the bride to get on a sun bed as the bride didn’t want a “pasty-faced bridesmaid.”
“I wish I’d said no” Sarah said. “I went on a sun bed three times a week. I’ll never know if it led to this, but there are links between sun bed use and cancer. I can’t prove it or rule it out, but it just isn’t worth this.”
Sarah, married to Darren, is mum to Morgan, 15 and Mason, 12, and lives in Low Moor near Bradford.
She has family in Kirkburton, Huddersfield and in Leeds and says the impact has been felt far and wide.
Asked what her advice was for people who use sun beds, she said: “What is the point of risking your life for a tan?
“It’s not just you melanoma affects, it’s your family and friends - it’s hard seeing your children cry because mum is poorly.”
Factbox from Melanoma UK:
- What is malignant melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It develops from skin cells called melanocytes.
- Is there a cure for melanoma?
When caught early most melanomas can be cured after fairly minor surgery. In 80%-90% of cases, melanoma can be removed with no recurrence. However, it may spread to other parts of the body which makes it harder to treat.
-What are the symptoms?
Symptoms include skin changes, moles getting bigger/changing shape, colour, itching, bleeding or looking inflamed.
Visit http://www.melanomauk.org.uk/ for more details on Melanoma UK.
The implications stretch further than health, her children have become young carers, her husband is stretched from working and caring, it’s had financial implications, she had to retire from her job as a maths support leader at a Bradford school and she’s lost her driving licence.
Melanoma UK assisted with a grant for a scooter to give her some independence.
Sarah is focusing on the positives. She is mentoring young carers and other patients going through melanoma, saying she wants to give back and raise awareness.
It calls on the government to “follow the lead of Australia and ban commercial sun beds”.It adds that melanoma kills six people everyday and sun beds have increased the risk of developing cancer.