Like so many young women, Tazmyn Patterson felt better with a tan.
"I thought I looked skinnier and more glam so the more tanned the better," says Tazmyn, now 30, who lives with husband, Jordan and their young family in East Belfast.
"From the age of 16, I used sunbeds up to three times a week at 15 minutes a time. I also used tanning accelerant cream. Everyone I knew used sunbeds – family, friends, it was just the norm. Now I look back and think what I was doing was ridiculous."
Tazmyn’s regrets about her sunbed addiction are very real. Now a mother to daughters Dillyn, 10, Saylor, seven as well as son Boss, 18 months, Tazmyn has developed Stage 4 cancer and the prognosis looks bleak.
"It’s so strange to think I may not see the children grow up," she says. "Typically around 30 per cent of people at this stage of melanoma survive for five years and if I got five years, I’d be delighted. Some days, when I feel well and strong, I tell myself I’ll be the person to beat the odds and I’ll be the miracle success story. Other days, I feel very low and wonder will I see Dillyn start secondary school? How many Christmases will we have? My goal is simply to live as long as I can."
Watch: Hugh Jackman gets fifth skin biopsy, encourages sunscreen use
There are around 16,700 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, that’s 46 every day according to Cancer Research UK. Melanoma skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer in the UK and worryingly, since the early 1990s, incidence rates have more than doubled in the UK.
It was in October 2014, when she was only 23 that Tazmyn had a small mole on the back of her neck removed after it became crusty and raised and started bleeding occasionally. A fortnight later, her dermatologist told her she had skin cancer but Tazmyn says she didn’t take the diagnosis seriously.
"I cringe at how naïve I was," she admits. "I was totally clueless and when I was told that the mole ‘was positive for melanoma’ and that I’d require more surgery, I didn’t even know what that meant. As far as I was concerned, the mole was gone, so surely I didn’t have anything else to worry about? I was so blasé, telling veryone it could be cut away and I’d be fine."
After the surgery – which left her with a 12cm scar - Tazmyn got on with her life, having regular skin and mole checks. She stopped using sunbeds and in the summer of 2019, she and Jordan were delighted to discover she was pregnant with their third child. The couple married and life was looking positive. But a month after their wedding. She felt a hard lump on her neck.
"I froze in terror," she says. "Although I’d been told that there was always a risk of the melanoma returning. I really believed it was in the past. The next day an ultrasound and biopsy revealed that the melanoma had returned and was in my lymph nodes, meaning it was Stage 3. My first thoughts were for my baby boy. I was 16 weeks pregnant and devastated to learn that melanoma can pass through the placenta. It wasn’t just me at risk now.
"In November 2019, I had surgery to remove the affected lymph nodes but tests revealed the cancer was spreading quickly and I was advised to deliver our son prematurely at 30 weeks. He almost died from a haemorrhage but he’s a little fighter and pulled through."
Scans showed that Tazmyn’s surgery had been a success. But unfortunately, she suffered serious side effects from the medicine given to her to prevent the cancer returning and she spent much of 2020 in and out of hospital.
"My mental health was plummeting and I was terrified the cancer would return," she says. "I’d scroll through old photos of myself with a mahogany tan and couldn’t believe how silly I’d been."
Sadly, in April 2021, the cancer did return and scans showed it in Tazmyn’s lungs, brain, spleen and liver.
"It’s devastating but I’m on immunotherapy treatment to help my body fight it," she says. "My daughters know I’m sick but believe the doctors will make me better and thankfully my son is oblivious. Jordan has been my rock and moments like all of us watching a Disney movie together means the world to us. Last month I celebrated by 30th birthday with friends and family and it was an amazing night. I believe in seizing every opportunity I can to enjoy life.
"Now I always wear SPF50 and I’m sharing my journey on social media to raise awareness. To any sunbed users I’d say: 'No tan is worth this. Protect your skin, you only get on skin and I wish I could go back in time and shake myself’".
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