“I don’t think people know how dangerous melanoma can be. I used to think, if you get it, it can be cut out and you wont have to think about it again, but I’m living proof that melanoma can change your life. ”
Her skin and the damage the sun can do was always something Jacinta was aware of growing up. Having had pale skin all her life, and a birthmark on her leg that she was very conscious of keeping out of the sun, at 19, Jacinta lost her uncle to melanoma.
“We were always aware that the sun could damage your skin but we really had no idea how dangerous it could be. I would always have been the one sitting under the umbrella on the beach or at a BBQ but I still got melanoma. And the fact is, anyone can get it. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of your skin.”
While working in London, Jacinta noticed a mole on her forehead which she believed had been there for years. When it started to become itchy, Jacinta went to her local doctor and was told that it was fine and was nothing to worry about.
“I went away but I still felt very uneasy about it. I was in work one day and a girl that had been sitting across the desk from me for years mentioned my mole and asked had it always been there. That was the push I needed to persevere. I went in to my doctor three more times to tell them the mole was really bothering me and I wanted it removed and eventually they did, however they said it was for cosmetic reasons only and was nothing I needed to worry about.”
So she didn’t.
A few weeks later, Jacinta received a letter out of the blue, asking her to come in to the dermatology centre of her local hospital. Jacinta took the day off and visited the clinic for her appointment with her husband.
“We were brought into a small room and they proceeded to tell me my mole had tested positive as a melanoma, and that I would need to come in for a wider local excision to ensure there were no melanoma cells left in my forehead. I remember leaving the room and my husband turned to me and said “Did they just tell you you have cancer?” It was a surreal day.”
Jacinta’s melanoma was detected early at Stage 2 but was quite deep at 3.8mm. She underwent surgery to remove three lymph nodes and was informed that her melanoma had been contained to that one mole and had not spread. Once her surgery was over, she tried not to think any more of it, and went back to life as usual.
“I just got on with things. I moved back to Ireland with my husband, worked away and genuinely believed that that was me done. I went to regular check-ups and for mole mapping to make sure that everything was as it should be but I sort of just got on with things and lived my life.”
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Jacinta notices a small lump on her jawline and immediately went to her GP for advice. Based on her history, she was sent on for further testing where it was confirmed that her melanoma had spread, and she would once again have to undergo treatment.
“I was very lucky that I had VHI and that I could go on targeted treatment to treat my cancer. I responded really well to the treatment and a couple of months after, I started my drug treatment in July and underwent surgery in November to remove the two tumours, one on my jawline and one close to my ear that I didn’t even know about! I persisted, was detected early and am thankfully here to share my story today, even if I have a couple more lines and scars to show for it.”
Jacinta’s melanoma journey started with a mole on her face, and for that, she is incredibly thankful.
“Had that mole been on my back, I never would have seen it and it would probably still be there today. Because it was on my face on both occasions, I was able to spot it and could seek help when I needed it. I really don’t think people understand how dangerous melanoma is. It’s completely changed how I live my life today and I’m always encouraging those around me to look after their skin. I’m happy to nag people about it. Skin cancer is so preventable! We always think it will never happen to us, but it happened to me, and I’m asking you now to please please look after your skin. A tan is not worth the risk.”
To hear more stories like Jacinta’s, tune in to the Marie Keating Foundation Talks Cancer podcast at https://www.mariekeating.ie/podcast/ or wherever you listen to podcasts.