By Liana Jacob
MEET THE woman who was so desperate to be tanned that she would use sunbeds at least TWO TIMES A WEEK for THIRTEEN YEARS but is now trying to raise awareness of the dangers of sunbeds and natural sun after being diagnosed with MELANOMA resulting in a HOLE in her cheek that some people mistake for a DOG BITE.
Between the years 1999 and 2012, marketing and communications specialist, Natalie Trout (38) from Indiana, USA, would regularly use a sunbed at least two times a week depending on the year.
Throughout her life from the age of six, during the summer she would refrain from using sun cream, exposing her skin to the sun which would cause severe, blistered sun burns. During this time she taught English at a high school in Kampala, Uganda, for a year, where she would spend weekends by the pool unprotected from the heat of the sun.
Despite being warned by people about the intensity of the sun, she didn’t take them seriously and hated using sun cream.
In 2015, she noticed a dry, red spot on her right cheek, but brushed it off as a small rash. But when she booked an appointment with a dermatologist, she warned her that this was a pre-cancerous spot that needed to be removed.
She used liquid nitrogen on her face to freeze off the spot, in an attempt to prevent it from turning into cancer. However, a year later the spot was replaced with a mole that gradually changed shape and size every week.
When she went back to her dermatologist, she diagnosed her with melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can metastasise.
She then had to meet with a plastic surgeon to remove the melanoma, that required a surgical procedure which resulted in her having a hole in her face. Despite the surgeon warning her that the surgery may result in facial paralysis, he urged that this was the only option she had and if she let it spread, she could die.
Following the surgery, Natalie would receive stares from strangers, and some even thought she had been bitten by a dog.
She has since been seeing her dermatologist every six months for full-body check-ups and she has had multiple biopsies which have all come back normal.
“Depending on the time of year, I would use sunbeds at least twice a week in my twenties. During the summer I wouldn’t use them, but I did lay out by the pool a lot, where I would get burnt and/or tanned,” Natalie said.
“In the winter when it was cold out, I would typically use sunbeds a few times a week. It was something I did with my roommates, and we loved it.
“Being tanned was very important to me in my twenties; I felt like it made me look better and even thinner. Everyone around me was tanning, and I was insecure enough at the time to feel like I needed to use sunbeds as well.
“Usually I would burn, but that didn’t matter. To me, it was better to be burnt than pale. Pale was almost unacceptable at the time.
“Pop stars like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were so beautiful and tanned, so I wanted to be tanned, too.
“I lived in Kampala, Uganda for a year, and I suffered multiple severe sunburns throughout that year, many with painful and disgusting blisters all over my chest and back.
“We would often spend our Saturdays at the pool, and although people warned me about the intensity of the sun when living on the equator, I never really listened.
“It was that way most of my life; I often made jokes when I would burn, posting photos of my sunburns on social media like it was a badge of honour.
“It never occurred to me how much harm I was doing to myself. Even when people would warn me about skin cancer, I would think to myself, ‘It won’t happen to me’.”
A year after she came back from Uganda, she noticed a spot on her right cheek which gradually became cancerous and she was forced to have surgery to remove the melanoma.
Natalie now wants to warn people of the dangers of not taking care of your skin and believes that she has been through this journey to share her story with the world.
“I noticed a dry, red spot on my right cheek; I thought maybe it was some sort of small rash, but when I went to see a dermatologist, she said it was a precancerous spot that needed to be frozen off,” she said.
“She used liquid nitrogen on my face to prevent it from turning into cancer. It was two years later that I learned it didn’t work, and it actually turned into melanoma.
“Almost a year after the spot was frozen off my face, a mole began to grow. It changed almost every week. The shape was changing, the size was changing.
“There was a darker spot in one area, but it was a lighter colour in another area. Since I had already had the spot frozen off, I was pretty worried about a mole growing in its place.
“When I went to see the dermatologist, I could tell it wasn’t good; she was very concerned and did a biopsy. About two weeks later I called for the results and found out that I had stage one melanoma and that I would need to have surgery to have it removed.
“When I heard the news, at first I was in disbelief. It could have been a lot worse, so I was glad it would hopefully be fixed with surgery, but it also wasn’t a best-case scenario, as there is a stage zero melanoma. I was a stage one.
“I remember driving to my parents’ house, and I hadn’t even cried yet. Then, when I saw my parents, I broke down. I had skin cancer, and not just any skin cancer, but the deadliest kind.
“I met with a plastic surgeon (since the melanoma was on my face), and he explained what he would do to remove the melanoma.
“He explained that since there are a lot of nerves in the face, there was a chance my smile might never be the same or even that the right side of my face could be paralysed.
“I remember him telling me, ‘But we don’t have a choice. If we don’t get rid of the melanoma, it will spread, and that could be fatal. This has to be done’.
“After my surgery, I got quite a few stares. Strangers even asked what happened to my face. A few people thought I’d been bitten by a dog.
“About a month later I met with an oncologist. Even though the surgery did remove all of the melanoma, my surgeon wanted me to get connected with an oncologist.
“She taught me a lot about melanoma, and I learned how to check my lymph nodes for any irregularities, as this is where melanoma will spread to, if not detected otherwise.
“I now see my dermatologist every six months for full-body check-ups. I have already had multiple biopsies on other spots, but they have all come back just fine.
“I have a scar on my right cheek, but it’s tough to see when I’m wearing makeup. I’m quite impressed with how my surgeon knew exactly how to cut for it to heal in the best way possible.
“There is no real way to tell how someone ends up with skin cancer but given all the damage I did to my sun in sunbeds and in the natural sun, I’m sure that didn’t help.
“My oncologist said it was likely a combination of sunbeds and natural sunlight that led to melanoma; I simply didn’t take good care of my skin.
“Skincare is very important to me now. I wear SPF thirty on my face every single day, and there is sun protection in my makeup.
“If I’m going to the pool or the beach, I always wear at least SPF fifty all over my body, and usually a large hat to shade my face and shoulders. I simply can’t take the risk of getting burnt.
“I never thought it would happen to me. But it did. Skin cancer doesn’t discriminate. They say it takes only one sunburn to increase your chances of skin cancer.
“Being tanned is not more important than being healthy. Take care of your skin, and if you see any suspicious spots, don’t wait to see a dermatologist. Even if it turns out to be nothing, at least you know.”