A woman who never sunbathes has had two tumours removed from her face and is now warning about the dangers of skin cancer for those who don't worship the sun.
Debbie Lindley, 49, from Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, had the tumours removed from beneath her eye and cheek, but fears she may lose most of her face because of skin cancer.
In March 2020 the support worker was seeing a GP about a rash on her right foot when she mentioned in passing a “pearl-like” lump her daughter, Megan, 17, had noticed under her right eye.
Two weeks later, the mum was told she had basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a cancer that starts in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis or skin, and was booked in to have the lump removed a few months later at Harrogate District Hospital in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.
But in May 2022, a further tumour was discovered on her right cheek with Lindley requiring more surgery, which saw 3cm of skin removed from the area.
She has also been warned this may not be the last surgery she needs.
“I have been told that there’s a 50% chance of it coming back and I know that I will have to keep losing more and more parts of my face," she explains.
“I need to hope the scars will heal."
Despite her shock at developing skin cancer without deliberately exposing herself to the sun, Lindley realises she was lucky that her tumour was spotted early.
“I had no signs at all," she says. "I would never have even known to ask my GP if my daughter hadn’t spotted the little pearl, which just looked like a spot under my eye.
“I wasn’t concerned at all, but he said they’d investigate it and booked me in for an appointment."
Confirmed that she had BCC, one of the most common forms of skin cancer, which accounts for 75 in every 100 cases in the UK, according to the NHS, the diagnosis took Lindley completely by surprise.
“I thought it was just a spot or maybe a cyst at worst, but I never would have expected cancer," she says.
“I had never sunbathed in my life and never went sun chasing, yet I got skin cancer. I didn’t understand how that was possible."
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Although the 20-minute operation was a success, doctors warned the cancer could return and become aggressive, so Lindley became obsessive about checking her skin for further tumours.
Thankfully, for nearly two years Lindley's face remained clear, but in March 2022, alarm bells started ringing when she noticed a “pimple” on her right cheek, which became increasingly sore.
Following an online consultation, she was asked to see a dermatologist and, after subsequent tests, it was confirmed that the cancer was back.
“It was quite different this time, as the doctors didn’t merely suggest I should have surgery, they said I needed to have it urgently," she says.
“They said the cancer was growing rapidly and if I didn’t have it removed as soon as possible, it could disfigure my face and make it more difficult for them to operate.
“The idea of needing a skin graft was the most terrifying part.
“I went into panic stations at this point and spent days crying and crying. I was just so scared.”
Lindley had an operation to remove the 3cm lesion in May 2022, which she says has left her face looking a “complete mess” and has dented her confidence.
"I was really worried about how I would look after surgery – if I’d be recognisable to my daughter and my husband, Graham Voakes, 49,” she explains.
“Especially after the second surgery, I worried that my husband wouldn’t look at me anymore.
“I told him how anxious I was about how the scars would heal, but he has been my rock.
“He has kept reassuring me that he will still fancy me if I have scars."
While doctors believe they have removed all the cancerous skin again, Lindley knows she is not in the clear yet, as there is still a 50/50 chance another tumour will form.
“Apparently, this cancer isn’t normally fatal, but it grows extremely fast and can be incredibly disfiguring, so I feel blessed that we caught it when we did," she says.
Now she is keen to stress the importance of checking for lesions, as she says detecting skin cancer early could make all the difference.
“In some ways I feel so unlucky, but I also feel so lucky to have spotted both of these tumours early, before they ruined my face completely," she says.
“If you spot anything unusual, or if you feel something is wrong, just go and get checked. Speak to your GP.
“It could make the difference between life and death, or your face being saved or disfigured.”
What is Basal cell carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
According to the NHS, the term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common types of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma which can be more serious.
In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly.
The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.
While Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance, it can also look like a red, scaly patch.
The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.
Basal cell carcinoma does not usually spread to other parts of the body, and treatments include surgery to remove the cancerous tumour and some of the surrounding skin, freezing (cryotherapy), anti-cancer creams, radiotherapy and a form of light treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT).
The treatment used will depend on the type, size and location of the non-melanoma skin cancer you have.
Additional reporting PA Real Life.