By Tanita Matthews
A CHICKENPOX SCAR turned ‘sinister’ when this woman was diagnosed with SKIN CANCER almost three decades after she contracted the virus – and it took THREE SURGERIES to remove it.
Louise Thorell (32) from Ashington, Northumberland, was five years-old when she came down with chicken pox.
Although the virus cleared up, Louise was left with a single scar from one of the blisters. The scar would go ‘bright white’ and become more visible when Louise’s temperature spiked. While her friends and family were all aware of the origin of the scar on her face, Louise said looks from strangers made her feel self-conscious.
As much as Louise’s scar was a source of discomfort at times growing up, it wasn’t until 2018 that she noticed more concerning characteristics at the site of the scar.
A series of infections saw her referred to the melanoma clinic for tests.
“It felt tougher, waxier than my normal skin,” Louise said.
“Around that time, I accidentally scratched my scar and after that I had issues. It would heal, a scab would form, it would fall off and an open wound would be there until a new scab would form.
“I dealt with it for a few months until I got an infection. My undereye swelled and my wound site got bigger each time it would open and heal again. I got two infections in it and an infection in my nose and above my lip too.
“After the first infection I noticed it had changed in appearance. It had tiny little blood vessel veins around it.
“My Nana had melanoma on the left side of her face, pretty much the same place – mine was on my right side. I googled skin cancers as I had a feeling my scar/wound had turned sinister.
“I made an appointment with my doctor and was referred very quickly to the melanoma clinic in Cramlington Northumberland, which is run by doctors and nurses from Newcastle RVI hospital.”
Louise’s family had a history of skin cancer. Her grandmother Lillian, who had passed away in 2014 from lung cancer, had suffered with a melanoma on the right side of her face.
Within weeks, Louise was back at the doctor’s office where they told her that she had developed Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), a common type of skin cancer that although is not imminently life threatening like other strains of cancer, if left untreated, can result in disfiguration.
The most common cause of BCC is from overexposure to ultraviolet light, usually found on sunbeds. The diagnosis came as a surprise to Louise who claims she had never used sun beds in the past and had always been diligent in applying sun cream to her pale skin when she ventured out into the sun.
Doctors worked to remove the cancer in November 2019; the procedure left Louise with a very visible scar on her face that required corrective surgery to lessen the damage to her face.
“I avoid the sun. I have always been ghostly pale. My consultant asked me if I ever use sun beds or sunbathe and then in the same breath he said, ‘oh, I don’t think you do as you’re so pale’,” she said.
“He did tell me it did start off as a chickenpox scar and it’s possible I’ve had BCC for years. I was told it was rarer for people my age to get BCC as it’s usually pensioners who get it on their face/scalp from prolonged sun exposure.
“I had Mohs surgery. I was awake for the surgery, just under local anaesthetic. They take some of the cancer cells away. Then it’s tested and looked under the microscope to see if there are still cancer cells in a certain section.
“After the first time they took cells away, I was bandaged up and was told to go for lunch and a drink and come back in two hours to see if they got all the cancer first time. Unfortunately, they hadn’t. I had to go back in theatre and get more taken off. This happened a total of three times. Three times they had to go back on my face and take cells/tumour away.”
Despite the ordeal she has suffered, Louise says she feels ‘lucky’ that her diagnosis wasn’t worse. She hopes that her story will inspire others to be proactive in looking into any unusual activity when it comes to their skin.
“At first I wasn’t expecting the sheer size of my scar to be as big as it is. I did feel awful about how I looked. I tried to joke about it and make fun to lighten my mood.
“This lasted a few weeks. When I started to see it healing, my goodness, my spirits were lifted. I had plastic/restorative surgery the same day on my face.
“Now I am very, very aware of my skin. I religiously apply Biooil twice daily, I put face cream on first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I don’t scrub my face, I take extra care and time on my face now.
“Take notice of your skin. Lumps or bumps or patches not looking like they used to. Get checked. I just feel lucky and blessed that it wasn’t worse. My face is forever changed but I’m skin cancer free.”