Steve’s story and life lessons as a melanoma survivor

Today’s journal is a guest post from Steve Wilson, one of our ambassadors. We won’t say any more but please read Steve’s story, in his own words, very carefully.

Hi I’m Steve, and have just turned 52. Married to Angie with two beautiful daughters, Abbie, 19 and Erin, 17, plus Bea the spoilt schnauzer. I was first diagnosed with Melanoma in 2010, which started out as an odd mark on my left calf and it was Angie who prompted me to and get it checked out. My GP was unconcerned but after applying the prescribed cream for 3 months with no visible change in its appearance, I was sent to my local hospital where after an initial appointment, it was removed for a biopsy. Although I had heard of skin cancer, I never really knew much about it and how serious it could be, so when I went to get my results I was not concerned. When the consultant uttered those words I will never forget, ‘you have cancer’, my head initially exploded with a myriad of thoughts and feelings and then I went numb. 

My life was never the same after that day.

I had surgery to remove the cancer from my left calf and whilst the wound healed quickly, my head didn’t. Anyway, after 5 years of regular MacMillan appointments to assess and monitor for further spread, I was discharged in early 2016. In that time I had developed a passion for running as I decided to get fit and lose some weight, in order to have a healthier internal environment so the body could get on with its job without any extra burden from me.

I remember when growing up playing outside, going on family holidays both home and abroad and there being lots of fun and laughter. But I also remember getting sunburnt. Unfortunately, I have pasty skin and ginger hair which is not conducive to being out in the sun. As I got older I went on the usual ‘lads’ holidays abroad, went backpacking around Europe and spent a year in Australia enjoying myself on the Gold coast. All of those years in the sun with minimal sun protection leading to burnt and damaged skin. I wanted to be tanned, as I didn’t like my pasty, white skin. Tanned, brown skin just looked more attractive and I wanted to be attractive. I didn’t just get burnt on holiday as I had various jobs that meant I worked outdoors. I played football, sat in beer gardens and loved being outdoors. Then as I got older I went on more holidays. The Mediterranean with Angie plus a year backpacking in New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific, culminating in getting married in Fiji, outside on the beach. 

Looking back now I can see that I just didn’t do enough to protect my skin from the sun. Unfortunately, my skin damage was worse than initially thought as in 2017 I found a hard pea size lump in my left groin crease. After contacting my Macmillan nurse I had an emergency fine needle extraction and the results tested positive for cancer. My initial cancer had not gone, it had just travelled very sneakily and efficiently through my lymphatic system to 9 lymph nodes in my groin and pelvis. Between May and June 2017, I had 2 major surgeries to remove 15 lymph nodes and then to reconstruct my thigh/groin area as the initial wound was not healing. As a result of the surgeries I developed extremely painful chronic pneumonia and bilateral PE’s (pulmonary embolisms), which by all accounts were big enough to kill me and mean I am on blood thinners for the rest of my life. I also have to wear compression stockings for life to help stay on top of lymphedema, a result of having the lymph nodes removed. There is also the emotional and psychological damage caused by cancer which is with me everyday.

All of this because I loved being outdoors so much and didn’t look after my skin.