What is your name?
Hi, my name is Fran Ross.
Describe yourself in 3 to 5 words.
Outgoing, pro-active, positive.
How did you discover your skin cancer/melanoma and how long ago?
I've had many Basal Cell Carcinomas and five melanomas. The first melanoma was forty years ago, in my mid-thirties; my GP validated my concern about a mole on my forearm and removed it. Then I had annual checks by a dermatologist.
After my mother died of melanoma in 1995, her specialist advised me to have six-monthly checks. In 2003 I went to work in Europe, where regular skin checks are not a "normal" part of the health system, so every year I paid to go to a Mole Clinic in London for a check. Following my eventual return to Australia, one of my first actions in 2011 was to visit a Skin Cancer Clinic, where the doctor biopsied a spot on my ankle and identified a melanoma. Because it was large and near my Achilles, I needed a plastic surgeon. He took a skin graft from the opposite thigh - which was more painful during recovery than the melanoma site!
A few years later, the Skin Cancer Clinic diagnosed three more melanomas on one day: two on my upper arm and one near my eye. I went back to the plastic surgeon for the one near my eye. After all that I was on three-monthly watch.
What is your attitude towards sun protection today?
When I was a child, nobody mentioned skin cancer. We went bushwalking and swam a lot. My mother would say, "Don't get burned. You'll be sore." My siblings and I used to peel the dead skin of sunburn from each other's backs, like snake-skin, laughing because it tickled.
These days, avoiding full sun is my outdoor priority. Last year I had radiation following surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer, and the radiation makes skin even more sensitive. I also have lymphoedema in my arm from the surgery; so while gardening or going for a walk, I need to reduce exposure to sun and to scratches or insect bites, to avoid cellulitis infections. Long sleeves with SPF 50+ protective fabric are a must, especially in the garden. I use SPF50+ cream every time I go outside. I love big hats and long, loose clothing, but I need to be careful to use sun protection on the back of my hands, and on my feet and lower legs too.
I wear a long-sleeved rashie when swimming.
What would you tell your 16 year old self about sun protection?
- Apply sunscreen BEFORE you go out - every day of the year.
- Your Celtic skin will never tan. Pale is beautiful.
- Big hats and cover-ups are chic.
Thanks Fran, for sharing your story with us and our Solbari Community.