A mother-of-two who lost her ear to a tanning addiction has opened up about the guilt she feels for her husband and children over her ‘self-inflicted’ melanoma.
Anthea Smith, 44, from Bolton, developed a ‘tanning addiction’ when she started using sunbeds at the age of 14, but said she had ‘no level of knowledge about the dangers’.
The local council worker discovered she had a black growth on her ear before she was diagnosed with stage 3C melanoma in 2015, and went on to have her entire ear amputated.
She told the BBC that one of the greatest challenges was her own shame, saying: ‘The guilt I feel for my husband and my children really, that this is all, this was self-inflicted.’
Anthea Smith, 44, from Bolton, had a ‘tanning addiction’ but admitted she had ‘no level of knowledge’ of the dangers of sunbeds before she was diagnosed with melanoma
After she was diagnosed with melanoma, she went on to have her left ear amputated, but admits one of the greatest challenges is ‘the guilt’ over the ‘self-inflicted’ disease
Anthea began using sunbeds at the age of 14, and went on to become ‘addicted’ to the habit.
She revealed: ‘I was addicted to having a tan and being tanned. Predominantly it was sunbeds because it was quicker and the results were faster.’
She first noticed a strange red spot on the fold of her outer ear in 2010, but claims she was not worried when her GP at the Winstanley Medical Centre in Wigan dismissed it.
After comments from her hairdresser and having an itchy ear from wearing a headset at work, Anthea said she returned to the same GP only to be told it was a wart again.
Anthea developed legions all over her ear before she was diagnosed with stage 3C melanoma in July 2015 (pictured, her ear before she was diagnosed)
It wasn’t until a smear test in October 2014 when she showed a nurse the now ulcerated mahogany and black marks on her left ear that she was booked in for another appointment with her GP the next morning.
She claimed the GP then ‘reluctantly’ referred her to a dermatologist in the St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals Trust for a different lesion on her shin.
After four months, tests confirmed the lesion on her shin was non-cancerous.
But the dermatologist referred her to a plastic surgeon for ‘the warts’ on her ear in April 2015.
After being diagnosed with melanoma, Anthea’s ear was amputated, leaving her with a wound (left), which went on to be covered up in a further operation (right)
A surgeon went on to perform an emergency biopsy and diagnosed Mrs Smith with stage 3C melanoma in July 2015.
Anthea had two operations on August 5 and November 5, 2015 to remove her full outer and inner ear, lymph nodes, tragus, salivary glands and temporal bone.
After the first operation, which removed her outer ear and tragus, Anthea revealed she felt like an ‘alien’ with the exposed hole in her head that lead to her eardrums.
During the second operation, which was 13 hours, doctors removed the inner ear, middle ear, and used skin from Anthea’s right leg and hip to cover up the wound.
Anthea said she felt guilt over her ‘self-inflicted’ cancer, explaining: ‘Nobody should have to live with what I’m living with’
She said: ‘My whole left ear has been amputated, and then the second operation I had my whole inner ear, middle ear, salivary glands on the left side, all the lymph nodes, full temple bone taken from my skull.’
Anthea was left deaf in one ear and with constant balance issues from then on.
Despite being in a state of ‘no evidence of active disease’ (NEAD) since 2016, Anthea still lives with the terrifying possibility that the aggressive skin cancer could return and cost her life.
She explained: ‘Nobody should have to live with what I’m living with, all for a tan.’
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumors.
Around 15,900 new cases occur every year in the UK, with 2,285 Britons dying from the disease in 2016, according to Cancer Research UK statistics.
- Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
- Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma
- Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
- Hair color: Red heads are more at risk than others
- Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
- Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk
- Removal of the melanoma:
This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary.
The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent.
- Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy:
This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body.
- Use sunscreen and do not burn
- Avoid tanning outside and in beds
- Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
- Keep newborns out of the sun
- Examine your skin every month
- See your physician every year for a skin exam
What is Stage 3 Melanoma?
Stage 3 is part of the number staging system.
Stage 3 means that cancer cells have spread into skin, lymph vessels, or lymph glands close to the melanoma. It depends on a number of factors including ulceration. Ulceration is when the skin covering the melanoma is broken.
Stage 3 can be divided into 3A, 3B and 3C.
Stage 3C means one of the following:
- Your lymph nodes contain melanoma cells, and there are melanoma cells in the skin or lymph channels close to the main melanoma
- Your melanoma is ulcerated and has spread to between one and three lymph nodes nearby which are enlarged
- Your melanoma may or may not be ulcerated and has spread to four or more nearby lymph nodes
- Your melanoma may or may not be ulcerated and has spread to lymph nodes that have joined together