WARNING – DISTRESSING IMAGES: A former sun worshipper is now a self-professed skin care “vigilante” after her eagle-eyed hubby spotted a tiny freckle on her calf which turned out to be cancer.
Sharon Tyrer underwent gruelling surgery after being diagnosed with melanoma in September 2016 which she believes could have been caused by sunbathing in her youth without using sunscreen.
After the tumour was removed the 51-year-old from the UK underwent a two-hour skin graft to cover the 3.5 inch “crater” on her calf.
The grandmother said she hopes that the graphic images of her leg will shock people into being more sun savvy and using sunscreen.
Sharon, co-director of a renewable energy company, said: “When I was told I had cancer I just sat and cried, it was a real shock to the system”.
“I come from a family where there’s no history of breast, skin or bowel cancer so it was a dreadful shock.
“I was petrified going into the operation, it wasn’t the surgery itself it was the aftermath.
“I was worried about whether they had got it all out and whether it was contained in one area or whether it had spread.
“I always remember that freckle being there and before I was diagnosed with melanoma I remember thinking it looked exactly the same as it always has to me.
“I’m a bit of a vigilante now, if I see anybody out in the sun I remind them to check any moles or freckles they have.
“I worry about young girls, especially school girls with little skirts on and tiny socks, and want to ask them ‘did you remember to put sun cream on the back of your legs?’.”
The mum of three, and step mum of three, said given its location the freckle wasn’t one she regularly checked.
It was only because her observant husband, 55-year-old renewable energy company co-director, Bill Tyrer spotted it while she was wearing her dressing gown that concerns were raised.
Bill said the freckle had changed in colour and size and urged Sharon to book a GP appointment.
Sharon said: “Bill said he thought my freckle had changed and that it looked slightly darker”.
“He took a closer look and then went on the internet pulling up information about skin cancer.
“He said that out of the list he was looking at I had three symptoms – the circumference had changed in size, it had irregular edges and changed in colour.
“I had no itchiness and there were no raised edges and I didn’t think it looked any differently.
“To begin with my freckle was around 4mm in diameter, but by the time my husband noticed it was 8mm – which still isn’t that big.”
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Sharon initially believed her husband was overreacting but made an appointment at her local surgery.
Doctors examined the freckle in August 2016 and referred Sharon to a dermatologist at Kendal Hospital who booked her in for a biopsy and freckle removal surgery the following week.
Four weeks after the freckle was removed Sharon was given the heart-breaking news that it was stage 1/stage 2 melanoma skin cancer.
Sharon said: “I was so scared when they said it was cancer, I wasn’t expecting it.
“Bill was my rock throughout. He was there every step of the way, he came to every appointment with me and still does now.”
In October 2016 Sharon underwent sentinel node biopsy and had two lymph nodes in her groin area removed at Lancaster Hospital.
During the same procedure Sharon had a skin graft where surgeons took skin from her left thigh to cover the crater on her calf, leaving a 4×4 inch scar behind.
Sharon said it took six months for her calf to fully heal and now has to moisturise the area regularly – something that dedicated Bill does daily.
Sharon said: “It took over six months for it to fully heal. That involved dressing changes every two-three days at a local surgery”.
“I now have no feeling in my ankle and right side of foot as they had to go as far down as my bone during the operation so there was muscle, tendon and nerve damage – but it’s a small price to pay.
“I’m sharing my story and the graphic pictures as I want to raise awareness of this, if it helps just one person then it’s worth it.
“I always sunbathed when I was younger and only used sunscreen in my later years as it wasn’t a ‘must’ back then.
“That tiny innocuous freckle which was ‘no problem at all’ turned out to be quite sinister.
“It wasn’t raised, never bled and wasn’t itchy.
“If it hadn’t been for Bill I would have happily trotted along and not given it a second thought, it doesn’t bear thinking what might have happened. He saved my life.”