Fireside chat with Melanoma UK founder and skin cancer expert

We don’t often get to sit down with a real expert. Not only an expert but somebody who has been speaking to skin cancer patients (and their families) for over fifteen years. With that, comes an intimate knowledge of the psyche and emotions that people experience during a skin cancer diagnosis and phase of treatment. Gill Nuttall is CEO and founder of our brilliant partner charity, Melanoma UK. In today’s LifeJournal, we wanted to extract Gill’s experience, bottle up years of wisdom and then reveal her considered thoughts and reflections.

First of all, what is Melanoma UK?

In April 2007, Gill gave up her job in Law to start Melanoma UK after one of her great friends, Jon Herron, died of melanoma skin cancer. Tragically, Jon was only 28 years old. During his brave battle, Jon told Gill how surprised he was by the lack of awareness programmes and support groups surrounding melanoma.

Fifteen years later (at the time of writing) and Melanoma UK is now the UK’s leading melanoma charity. What distinguishes the team from other charities is that they’re a patient-led group i.e. they help and support ‘real’ patients and their loved ones. It’s not just raising money and awareness, it’s pastoral care. Today, the charity is led and run by Gillian with the very capable Diane (‘big bird’) Cannon as her sidekick.

If you ever need to talk to somebody about anything skin cancer related, Melanoma UK is a great resource and we’d strongly encourage you to reach out to them here. As a prominent charity, they have a depth of knowledge, contacts, medical advisers and relationships who can help. If you’re not based in the UK, message them and they may well be able to suggest who to talk to.

Melanoma UK selected LifeJacket Skin Protection to be one of their partners. They’re also our partner charity of choice and we’re seriously proud of it.

Under the spotlight

In a role reversal from Gill’s day-to-day life, we put her in the hot seat and asked eight questions we were extremely curious about. Hopefully, you find it helpful to hear what Gill has to say and if you’ve heard some of it before from us, we hope Gill’s voice injects some added credence.

Over to you Gill…

What skin cancer data point do you find yourself repeating the most?   

I think it would be that it’s one of the most preventable and curable cancers.

We know that allowing ourselves to burn and over exposure to ultraviolet light in sunlight, is dangerous – especially in our younger years.

If caught early enough, melanoma can be one of the most curable cancers.  I speak to many patients who are diagnosed very early and I never speak to them again.  That isn’t because anything bad happened to them, it’s because they simply never needed me again.  

What the first thing you say when when somebody calls?  

To try not to panic.  When a patient receives a diagnosis of melanoma, they often say that they didn’t hear much after the sentence once they heard the word ‘cancer’. 

What’s the most common regret your patients have when you talk to them?    

I think it is fair to say that the one thing that runs across all of the conversations that I have with patients, is that they regret not having sought medical help sooner. Many patients knew that there was something wrong and they either ignored it, never thinking for a moment that they might have cancer. 

What are the most common mistakes people make when it comes to skin cancer prevention?  

I guess it is the failure to check their own skin regularly enough.  For some reason we seem unable to take the health of our skin seriously.  We are very blasé about our biggest organ. 

What single action can people take every day to try and reduce their chance of getting skin cancer?   

For me it would be to protect our skin properly.  It isn’t that hard to do, good sunscreen, every day.  Yet we just don’t. 

Given people like to be tanned, are sun beds a safe option and if not, what would you suggest?  

No, sunbeds are not a safe alternative, they never have been, they never will be.  Anyone who says otherwise is deluded or has significant investment in keeping the tanning salon industry alive.  It would be great if we were to embrace our paleness, but that will never happen, thanks to Coco Chanel.  The safest tan will be the one that comes from a bottle or a spray. 

What does the future of skin cancer / melanoma look like?

I think we have more hope in this disease than ever before.  When I was thrown into this arena in 2002, there was very little to treat melanoma.  A patient with advanced melanoma was looking at life expectancy of 3-9 months.  Once we had the approval of immunotherapies, the landscape became totally different.  Sadly, melanoma numbers keep rising, but the future potential for treatments is looking much brighter than it ever has been.   

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