When Rachel Collett noticed a spot in the middle of her forehead in late 2014, she figured it was just a scratch she’d got while brushing her hair.
Little did she know it was far more serious.
The mark eventually scabbed, and when it fell off it left a ‘volcanic crater’-like indent in its wake.
It wasn’t until the indent turned pearly-white that 48-year-old mum went to the doctor and a biopsy revealed it to be basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.
Rachel had to have it removed in 2015, when she was 41, which left a 10cm scar on her forehead.
She’s also needed further surgeries on her face since then – once in 2018 to remove a raised lump next to her eye and another this year to remove one from the tip of her nose, which turned out to just be rosacea.
Rachel, who works at a secondary school, said that her mum was unaware of how risky being out unprotected in the sun could be and used to apply coconut oil on her olive skin.
She only started wearing a low SPF sun cream in her 20s, but now applies factor 50 on a regular basis and is keen to raise awareness of the importance of proper sun protection.
Rachel, of Bideford, Devon, recalled: ‘[The sore] scabbed, the scab would fall off and the sore would still be there.
‘I just thought I’d scratched myself, or it was a beauty spot. I have long hair, so I brush my hair back all the time.
‘Eventually, it gradually started puckering around it and what I describe as a volcanic crater started dipping into my head.
‘But it kept getting bigger and then the red bit in the middle disappeared, and it was just pearly white.
‘So I went to the doctors who referred me to a dermatologist.
‘She was 98% sure when I got there that it was basal cell carcinoma and asked me questions like did I go on sunbeds? And I told her: “No”.
‘She asked if I used sun cream and I didn’t in my youth because I was born in 1974 when skin cancer wasn’t known about.’
When she got her first mark removed, doctors told Rachel it’s ‘very rare’ for someone as young as her to have basal cell carcinoma.
She says the scar she’s been left with in the middle of her forehead has knocked her confidence.
The mum-of-two said: ‘They described [the procedure] by saying they cut my forehead across, down and across, opened it up like a window to remove the cancer and tissue around it to make sure they’ve got rid of the whole thing.
‘They then put it back together and my scar ended up being like an anchor.
‘[The diagnosis] was a bit worrying because I’d never heard of it before, and obviously I’d heard of skin cancer and melanoma and how that spreads.
‘I was given a leaflet to read and told that it’s very rare that it spread to other organs, so I felt a bit relieved about that.
‘It’s the scar that everyone notices. In the school that I work in all the young people say: “What’s that scar on your head for miss?”
‘It’s affected my self-confidence. I see people stare which makes me feel uncomfortable.
‘I have to remind myself that this is a warning to other people and try and tell myself it’s the story of my life.’
Just as the doctors warned, doctors found more cancer when a raised pearly circular mark on the side of her head grew by roughly 1cm.
They confirmed it was basal cell carcinoma again after they removed it, and went on to later remove another mark on the tip of Rachel’s nose that was similar to the mark on her forehead.
Only after they removed that third mark did tests reveal it to be rosacea, which is a skin condition that causes blushing or flushing and visible blood vessels in your face.
Now, Rachel religiously checks her body for suspicious lumps and bumps.
She said: ‘Up until my 20s no one knew about skin cancer.
‘In my 20s I went to the Greece islands quite a lot and was going on two holidays a year there.
‘I was putting on some factor 15 thinking that was enough to protect myself, but that hardly protects you at all.
‘I’m constantly saying to my children: “Make sure you have sun cream on”.
‘During heatwaves, I’ve been putting on factor 50 and stay in the shade. If I go down the beach I don’t stay there for long.
‘My message would be to always put on sun cream and protect yourself.
‘It’s not putting it on once you’re out there, it’s putting it on before you go out because it takes time for your skin to absorb it.
‘”Slip, Slop, Slap” is the slogan the Australians use and we need to remember to slip on a t-shirt, slop on sun lotion and slap on a hat.’
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