The sun-soaked days of summer require us to constantly check our skin for any changing freckles or moles, a telltale sign of skin cancer. Most of the time we're solely focused on our own skin — since we're the most familiar with our own bodies — but a British mother's heartbreak shows that we should be paying attention to the skin of others.
Jennifer Nicholson's daughter, Freja, was just 18 when she died from skin cancer in November 2015. Her melanoma came from sun damage, the grieving Nicholson told The Mirror.
“There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t wish I could go back and just take five minutes to put suncream on her delicate young skin when I mistakenly thought there was no danger," she said. The family, from Leeds, was diligent about applying sunscreen on vacation, but didn't think twice about sun dangers in the cloudy British weather.
“In Thailand, Turkey and other places I was ultra-careful. I’d make the girls wear factor 50 and full-body swimsuits," she said. "But it was sunny or even cloudy summer days in England when perhaps I wasn’t quite so diligent. You think the sun isn’t strong enough to do any damage. I was so foolish.”
Sunscreen is necessary in all types of weather because the damaging UV rays can break through the clouds. "It may not feel the same as a bright and sunny summer day, but always apply sunscreen to any exposed skin when leaving the house," says Dr. Purvisha Patel, owner and dermatologist at Advanced Dermatology & Skin Cancer Associates in Memphis, Tennessee.
Nicholson said she first noticed a problem with Freja when a mole started to change.
“Since she was born Freja had a small mole in the middle of her back, no bigger than a press-stud. But as she got bigger, it grew too and in 2012 we noticed it had gone lumpy and black," she told the newspaper. Tests came back as benign, meaning it wasn't dangerous, but eventually the teen found a lump under her arm.
“It was only then I remembered that mole on her back. I asked if they were related and doctors gently told me I should in no way have let our guard down. During these last few years cancer had rampaged through Freja while we carried on, blissfully unaware," she continued.
Skin cancer comes in three main types. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the least common but most deadly. An estimated 76,380 cases will be diagnosed in 2016 with over 10,000 estimated deaths.
It's not clear if Freja suffered from melanoma, but the cancer eventually spread to her brain. Doctors removed a brain tumor, but the cancer came back and ultimately took the teen's life. “I feel I failed her," Nicholson said. "I could have stopped it. Don’t make the same mistake because you will never ever forgive yourself.”
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