19th May 2023
"Malignant melanoma skin cancer took the life of our bright, intelligent daughter Sharon,” explains Bernie Rice, addressing a recent launch of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan. “She was 31 when first diagnosed in 2006. A mole on her leg had changed but it went undetected and she was not aware of the implications of it.
“Eventually she got it checked. She was told that it was malignant melanoma. The first stage was to remove the melanoma and the second stage was to remove the skin in the surrounding area. Nevertheless, Sharon looked on the bright side and only ever spoke of getting well again and moving on with her life, which she did for a short period.
“In mid-January 2008, Sharon attended an appointment with her oncologist. The news was very upsetting – the cancer had taken over. Sharon died at 6am on the morning of February 2nd. All I could think of was – I had given her her first breath and I held her hand as she breathed her last. My beautiful girl had left us. All her wonderful plans for life never materialised because of a lack of knowledge of one deadly disease – melanoma.” Preventable
Skin cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer in Ireland, with around 13,000 new cases every year. That number is projected to double by 2045. However, the majority of cases can be prevented by following skin protection behaviours.
According to Dr Triona McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, HSE National Cancer Control Programme, “skin cancer is the most preventable cancer. Most concerning is that we are seeing an increase in the rate of melanomas diagnosed in Ireland, particularly in females. There are some factors that we can’t change about ourselves – our skin type – whether you have very fair skin. But by far your biggest risk factor is your exposure to ultraviolet or UV radiation and one you can avoid by protecting your skin from UV radiation and the sunlight.
“The best ways to protect skin are to cover up with long sleeves, wear a sunhat and sunglasses and use sunscreen. You should limit your time in the sun when UV radiation is strongest, typically between the hours of 11am and 3pm, from April to September in Ireland. And never use a sunbed."
“The implementation of the National Skin Cancer Prevention Plan is a great opportunity to harness the power of workplaces, community groups, recreational groups, healthcare professionals and others to make SunSmart behaviours the norm. It is so important for our physical and mental health to enjoy time outdoors but we should do so while also protecting skin from UV radiation to reduce the risk of our most common cancer.”
Bernie, who has a public representative role in the implementation of the prevention plan, concluded:
"Skin cancer is preventable. This is the awareness campaign Sharon spoke of doing, but instead, I am doing it for her by telling her story. In Sharon’s memory, I am trying to raise awareness of the importance of protecting your skin from the sun, in the hope that it will help save lives."
Watch Bernie tell her story on YouTube
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