Shadow over brother who lost his sister

SUMMER is here and for most people it's an opportunity to get out and about and indulge in a spot of sunworshipping.But as Suffolk man Simon Broadbent warns this sort of behaviour is potentially lethal.

By Jessica Nicholls

SUMMER is here and for most people it's an opportunity to get out and about and indulge in a spot of sunworshipping.

But as Suffolk man Simon Broadbent warns this sort of behaviour is potentially lethal.

Health reporter Jess Nicholls reveals how his life has been turned upside down by skin cancer.


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SIMON Broadbent was just 17 years old when he watched his bubbly 21-year-old sister Vicky lose her fight against skin cancer.

Now he could have history staring him in the face as just a few days ago he had to have a mole removed from his back.

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For the next two weeks he has to put the possibility that the mole could be cancerous to the back of his mind and has spoken out to warn others of the dangers of the sun.

He said: "When I see people looking like lobsters on the beach I just think 'you do not know what you are doing.'

"People just don't seem to understand the dangers and there is not enough said about how serious the problem is."

Simon is, from Poplar Hill, Stowmarket is now 26 and is still devastated by the death of his sister, but he is trying not to think about the possibility that he might have skin cancer.

He said: "I have about two weeks to wait to find out the results, but I have to put it to the back of my mind.

"You know it is there but you can't let it get to you."

As soon as Simon found that the mole on his back had turned into a mound he called the doctor and because of his family history he was booked an emergency appointment to get it taken out.

He said: "They think that it looks harmless but because I have a history with it they decided to take precautions.

"I also have to keep an eye on some other ones on my body."

Although Vicky died nine years ago, Simon still has flashbacks to her last days when as a 17-year-old he stayed by her bedside comforting her until she finally died, nine months after being diagnosed with having a melanoma.

Life was good for the young mum and wife – she had just come back from a Spanish holiday, had a beautiful young daughter, Amber and was pregnant for a second time.

But life can be cruel and the 21-year-old was diagnosed with skin cancer after noticing a mole on her leg had changed shape and colour.

By the time it was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to her brain and nothing could be done to save her.

Her unborn baby, little Craig, died a week before she did.

Throughout her illness Vicky begged Simon not to let her die but all he could do was stay by her side while the cancer took hold.

He said: "She used to say 'promise me that you won't let me die' but what do you say to someone?

"She lost all her hair and her dignity went.

"But it was not our choice, all we could say was that we would wait and see."

Whenever Amber, now nine, visits, Simon finds it heartrending to see his little niece who looks so much like her mum.

He said: "It is hard for me because she looks the spitting image of Vicky.

"It just brings everything back, but the bubbly sisterly thing has gone and I just get dreadful flashbacks."

Sadly this dreadful and tragic story will be all too familiar to many families as skin cancer is now the second most common cancer in the UK and the number of cases has doubled in the past 20 years.

Every year 40,000 people in the UK are diagnosed and 2,000 people die from it.

Like many people who have melanoma, Vicky did not spend a great deal of time in the sun.

According to Dr Sam Gibbs, consultant dermatologist at Ipswich hospital, (who was not involved with Vicky's case) people who don't spend a great deal of time in the sun and then go on two-week holidays are at more risk of getting the malignant melanoma skin cancer.

He said: "Melanoma is much more intermittent and it is sporadic exposure that is the main environmental factor.

"It usually effects people who go on holiday for two weeks a year and get exposure in short bursts."

Dr Gibbs added that it seems to affect younger people, particularly more so in women than in men.

At Ipswich hospital last year more than 800 cases of skin cancer were treated – 60 of those were the more dangerous form of melanoma, the type of cancer that killed Vicky.

There are other types which are non-melanoma and although people do die from them, they are not as big a killer as malignant melanomas which account for 80 per cent of skin cancer deaths.

The other cancers are Basal Cell and Squamos Cell which are caused by years of exposure to the sun and affect older people as well as those who work in the sun.

Shockingly, although most people are nowadays far more aware of the dangers of being out in the sun, many choose to ignore it in favour of a tan.

And although many people know that the sun is dangerous, what they may not be aware of is that some of their safety measures might not be as effective as they thought.

According to Dr Gibbs, the only really safe way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to stay out of the sun completely.

He said: "Lots of people think they are safe if they put total block on, but dermatologists are wary of this.

"Most people don't put it on properly, even dermatologists, and it can be unreliable.

"Really sun block should come at the bottom of the list."

Sun block is at risk of coming off because of sweat or water and patches of skin might be missed during application. Also some people might not apply enough.

Dr Gibbs said: "Staying out of the sun is much more effective and important.

"I think wearing sun block can help, but I still think there is a danger.

"There is some research that claims people wearing sun block are more likely to get skin cancer."

Cases of skin cancer are still rising but it is unlikely to be out of ignorance that people do not know the dangers of the sun.

Dr.Gibbs said: "A lot of people are aware now that the sun is dangerous.

"But they do not modify their behaviour – it is exactly like smoking.

"People know it is bad but they still smoke because they like it."

FAST FACTFILE graphic

Keeping safe in the sun:

n. NEVER burn – sunburn causes permanent damage – the visible burns heal but the effects can re-emerge as skin cancer years later.

n. Wear a wide-brimmed hat to shade your face and wear clothes that cover you, fabrics that cover your arms and legs are the coolest way to be outdoors.

n. Wet fabrics let more sun through along with pale colours.

n. Wear sun glasses that are 100 per cent UV blocking as eye can be harmed by excessive exposure to the sun.

n. The higher the sun, the more concentrated are the rays and it shines more fiercely between 10am and 2pm.

n. Apply sunscreen of SPF15 or more at least half an hour before you go out and reapply every couple of hours. A good rule of thumb is don't stay out any longer wearing sunscreen than without it.

n. You can even burn on a cloudy day as clouds only block out some of the suns UV rays.

Fast factfile graphic

Solar Index: Tells you how much UV from the sun is reaching the earth's surface.

You can see the index on television weather forecasts. The index is a more accurate way of assessing your risk.

Index 1-2: Everyone is at low risk. British winter for example

3-4: Most people are at low risk but those with sensitive skins are at medium risk and should be protected.

5-6: Everyone with white or brown skin will need protection, but people with black skin will be low risk.

7+: From here onwards people of all skin colours and types should cover up.

Symptoms to watch out for:

Be alert to changes on your skin – lumps, an existing mole changing shape, a sore that won't heal or something may start to itch.

Changes to moles – Bleeding, itching, getting bigger changing shape or colour

Non melanoma skin cancers – a sore patch that won't heal, a smooth pearly or waxy lump that sometimes bleeds or forms a crust, a flat red spot often scaly and crusty or rough scaly patches or growths.

Examine your skin every few months.

WEBLINKS: www.doh.gov.uk/sunsafe

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