A skin cancer survivor from the Bristol area is urging people to be careful in the sun after his health scare began when he woke up one morning with blood on his pillow. Luke Packer, from Westerleigh in South Gloucestershire, noticed in 2018 that a mole on the side of his face had changed shape and appearance.
The 23-year-old began feeling tired and achy, and then woke up one morning to find the mole had bled onto his pillow. He explained: “At the start of 2018, when I was looking after my great-grandmother as her full-time carer, I just didn’t feel right. I was tired, had aching muscles and wanted to sleep all the time.
“I had always had a mole beside my left temple, and overnight it became swollen, and one morning I woke up with a little bit of blood on my pillow. But I didn’t think anything of it, and it was July before I went to the doctor.”
Luke, who had no history of cancer in his family, went to the doctors, had his mole removed and sent for a biopsy – and was diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer. He was initially told the cancer hadn’t spread, but six months later it was revealed that it had.
Luke now works as a nurse at Stoke Gifford Medical Centre, and has to monitor his own condition. But he says that the frightening time has made him appreciate his life more.
“Since being discharged, I have realised that you make the most of every day and caring for others as a nurse is what I love doing the most,” he said. And he is now urging people to take care not to become burned in the sun because of the risks it can create.
According to Cancer Research UK, around 2,000 people in the South West are diagnosed with melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – each year. But the organisation says that almost nine in 10 cases could be prevented by being safe in the sun and using a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen to avoid burning.
And Luke said: “I hope I can encourage people to think about their sun habits and take precautions. Sunburn doesn’t just happen abroad or on summer holidays.
“It can happen in the UK, even on a cloudy day. It’s tempting to want to make the most of warm weather but getting sunburned increases your chance of getting skin cancer – so it’s really important that people take care.
“Now I always try and stay out of the sun, wear a hat, make sure my shoulders are covered and that I’ve got my sunscreen with me.”
“It’s really spurred me on to want to help others and spread the word about skin cancer prevention and early detection too. It could make all the difference, so I always encourage people to be safe in the sun and see their GP if they notice any unusual changes to their skin.”
According to Cancer Research, some people are at a higher risk and need to take more care in the sun. Those at higher risk include people with fair skin and hair, or light-coloured eyes, as well as people with lots of moles and freckles or a family history of skin cancer.
Karis Betts, the charity’s health information manager, advises: “It’s important to remember the sun isn’t only strong abroad. It can be strong enough in the South West and across the UK to burn between mid-March and mid-October and is strongest during the middle of the day, not when it’s hottest.
“Avoid getting caught out by checking the UV index on the weather forecast or online. If it’s 3 or above it’s time to think about sun safety – especially if you have light or fair coloured skin or burn easily.”
Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN’s top tips for staying safe in the sun are to seek shade between the hours of 11am-3pm in the UK, to cover up with clothing by wearing a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses, and to apply a sunscreen of at least SPF 15 regularly and generously.
For more information and tips, you can visit Cancer Research UK’s website by clicking here.