Amelia's story - melanoma patient at 12, med student at 16

When Amelia Davies-Waddell was 12, her mum Jenny noticed an odd spot on her arm.

"I had this quite benign looking spot on my left arm - it was sort of a pink raised nodule," Amelia explained.

"My Mum was quite alarmed so she took me to a few doctors and all of them said ‘kids don't get melanoma, don't worry.'"

"Something in her gut just said something really wasn't right so eventually we went to the GP who referred us on to a dermatologist - more as just a piece of mind sort of thing."

"The dermatologist said it was probably nothing but we should just do a biopsy to be sure."

Two days before Christmas, Jenny received a call from Amelia's doctors confirming the worst - it was a rare form of melanoma named spitzoid melanoma - and likely had a poor prognosis. Jenny kept the news to herself so Amelia could have one last "normal cancer-free Christmas".

Four years of painful surgeries, scans and appointments followed.

"It was actually really scary. My granny who I had a very close connection to passed away from cancer a year before I was diagnosed, so I was petrified with anything to do with cancer," Amelia said.

"I'll never forget my first oncology appointment - walking into the waiting room and seeing all these other children facing cancer, you know, lost limbs and undergoing chemo. It was a horrifying feeling but my mum always taught me to try and find the silver lining."

"I had most of my lymph nodes taken out at the end of March last year. Unfortunately, that left me with chronic neuropathic pain and lymphedema in my left arm - I take strong pain killers because of that and continue to just have scans and regular oncology appointments."

"I'm coming up to five years at the end of the year but I'll continue to have regular monitoring and I continue to have regular skin checks every two months as well, for the rest of my life."

Despite everything, Amelia completed high school two years ahead of schedule last year, achieved the highest TER score ever achieved by someone her age, and is now in her first year of medicine at UWA and plans to eventually specialise in oncology.

Amelia is determined to change the perception among young people around what's considered healthy. 

"Obviously with melanoma it's important to acknowledge that sun exposure accrued over a lifetime plays a big role. So I'm really passionate about spreading awareness," Amelia said. 

"It's a lot more powerful coming from someone who is also young so it helps younger people to relate."

"I went to an all-girls school so you get a lot of talk about ‘oh you look very tanned' and I used to sort of cringe because I'd think ‘No! You don't know what you're doing to yourselves. It's that sort of peer influence where you hear about one girl getting her tan from spending the whole weekend at the beach and equating being tanned with being beautiful. I think that's a really dangerous message - it's not good for your health and you shouldn't be doing it."

"I'm very diligent and I always wear sunscreen on my arms and on my face when I'm going out and I try to cover up as much as possible in the sun and when it's high UV."

"I'm also always conscious of reminding my friends, not in a naggy way, but just as a reminder if we're going out."

Our National Sun Protection Survey reveals a third of teens still seek a tan

Data released this week for National Skin Cancer Action Week provides a snapshot of Australian teenagers' beliefs about tanning.

Overall, 38% of teens say they like to get a tan and girls proved to have a greater desire to tan, with 43% saying they prefer a tan. 67% of girls also believe their friends think a tan is a good thing.

Worryingly, while tanning preferences amongst teenagers have dropped since 2003, rates appear to have plateued since our last survey in 2013.

"In Australia, two in three people will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70," Our SunSmart Manager Mark Strickland explains.

"Our main concern is there are still a number of teens - particularly young girls - who believe it's healthy to have a tan, and social media is likely playing a role in perpetuating that belief"

"The ironic thing is most seek a tan for cosmetic reasons, but the sun actually contributes to accelerated aging of the skin. When the skin is overexposed to UVA radiation, the collagen and elastin fibres that support the skin are damaged, and over time this results in wrinkling, sagging, thickening and blotchy spots, which most of us would rather avoid"

"We need to encourage teens to not seek a sun tan as UV damage accumulated during your first 20 years is a huge risk factor for melanoma later in life"

"This is not just a teen message. Over-exposure to UV at any age is a risk. It's never too late to cover up"

"Our SunSmart Schools program has done a great job at spreading the Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide message to WA kids over the past 20 years and melanoma rates have halved in 15-39 year olds as a result - but we can't be complacent - we want to see that number continue to fall"

"Now that the weather's warming up and we're all spending more time outdoors, it's a timely reminder for people to slip slop slap seek and slide when they're outside, even on cloudy and cooler days"

"Protect yourself in five ways - slip on sun-protective clothing, slop on SPF30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses when the UV is higher than 3 - that occurs most days of the year in WA"

 

For information about skin cancer, visit our myuv website or call our cancer nurses on 13 11 20

 

 


Found in:  News - 2018 | View all news