My tanning habit gave me stage 4 cancer
TAMZYN PATTERSON, 30, lives in East Belfast with her husband Jordan, 27, and daughters Dillyn, 10, Saylor, seven, and son Boss, 19 months.
She reveals: “Lying under the fluorescent light of the deckchair, I smiled, thinking of the golden tan I would have for my evening. Now I wish I could go back in time and tell this girl that no tan is worth what I’ve been through.
In October 2014, at the age of 23, I had a small mole removed on my neck after it lifted and crusty, occasionally bleeding. A fortnight later, I sat dumbfounded in the dermatologist’s office as he told me I had melanoma – AKA skin cancer – most likely caused by my use of a solarium.
For 16 years, I had used a recliner three times a week, ironically thinking that I looked healthier with a tan. He explained to me that I needed surgery to remove all of the melanoma cells and reduce the risk of it coming back. I cringe now when I think about how jaded I was, telling everyone that he could be cut and that everything would be fine.
In December, I spent a week in the hospital for surgery, which left me with a 12cm scar. Over the next five years, I had regular skin and mole exams and kept my promise to my dermatologist to stop using tanning beds.
In July 2019, my fiance Jordan and I were overjoyed when I got pregnant with our third child, and we got married the following month. Even though I had been told that there was always a risk of melanoma returning, I really believed that was in the past.
A month into our marriage, however, I felt a hard lump in my neck and froze in terror. The next day an ultrasound and biopsy revealed that I had melanoma in my lymph nodes, which means I was now in stage 3.
My first thoughts were for my baby boy – I was 16 weeks pregnant and was devastated when I learned that melanoma can cross the placenta. It wasn’t just me who was in danger now.
“Cancer was spreading quickly”
In November 2019, I had the lymph nodes removed near the cancer site. The tests revealed that my cancer was spreading quickly and the medical advice was that I had to give birth prematurely.
On New Years Eve, Boss was born at 30 weeks by Caesarean section, weighing 3 lbs 2 oz. I had a brief hug before he was taken to the Neonatal Care Unit (NICU). He almost died of a pulmonary hemorrhage, but the little fighter made it out and he was released at 10 weeks, just before the first confinement.
As a family, we protected each other, helped by my mother, because Boss and I were very vulnerable. Fortunately, the scans showed that my operation was successful and that there was no sign of cancer, but I was put on preventive treatment to try to prevent it from coming back.
Unfortunately, this caused me serious side effects – at one point I even developed sepsis – and spent much of 2020 in and out of the hospital. My mental health collapsed and I was afraid the cancer would come back. I was scrolling through old photos of myself with a mahogany tan and couldn’t believe how stupid I had been.
In August 2020, I was taken off the drug because its side effects were so grueling, and I was told I would have tests every six months. I was hoping better times were ahead, but in April a CT scan revealed cancer in my lungs, as well as my brain, spleen, and liver.
It’s impossible to know if things could have been any different if I had stayed on preventive treatment, but I don’t regret stopping it because my quality of life was so poor.
My cancer is now in stage 4, and only 30% of people with this stage of melanoma survive five years or more.
My cancer is now in stage 4, and only 30% of people with this stage of melanoma survive five years or more. I will not give up and have received immunotherapy to combat it. My daughters Dillyn and Saylor know I’m sick, but believe the doctors will improve me, while Boss is thankfully unconscious.
Jordan has been my rock, and times like watching a Disney movie together mean it all. Last month I celebrated my 30th birthday with my friends and family. It was an amazing night and I believe in taking every opportunity to enjoy life.
Since I was diagnosed I haven’t been on a tanning bed, I always wear an SPF50 and share my journey on social media to raise awareness. I have to believe that I will see my children grow up. If you have no hope, you have nothing.
There are around 16,200 new cases of melanoma in the UK per year.
Tanning beds can increase the risk of cancer by 20%. *
Khloé Kardashian revealed in 2016 that she was previously diagnosed with melanoma.