Melissa Lewis regrets every moment she spent by the pool in her youth.
Porcelain-skinned mother of four has been diagnosed with three different skin types cancer since 2009, and now faces a lifetime of aggressive treatment to stay well.
The nurse who has become the ‘unofficial face of skin cancer’ TIC Tocspoke to FEMAIL about the brutal reality of the disease.
She revealed that she never had a classic symptom such as a ‘dodgy looking mole’, explaining that her cancer looked like flaky skin or an uneven complexion.
To prevent the condition from becoming fatal, he now requires life-long treatment.
In 2018 surgeons removed a melanoma from her ear and also took a biopsy from a suspected legion on her forehead, which turned out to be an early form of skin cancer called Bowen’s disease.
Melissa admitted that as a child she constantly got sunburnt all summer long by the pool, and during her teens she tanned at the beach because of ‘peer pressure’.
‘ Thinking back now, if I could have a moment to spare my younger self I would say – ‘Listen what you’re doing now may be fun, but you’re going to pay for it in the future. had been. And it could kill you”,’ Melissa said.
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Mum and nurse Melissa Lewis (pictured) needs annual skin treatments to stop her skin cancer turning malignant
While most people believe that skin cancer looks like a ‘black, scary mole’, this was not the case for Melissa as the early signs of the deadly disease were practically invisible to the naked eye.
He never had any warts, but rather ‘scaly bumps’ on the skin.
‘I had melanoma and it didn’t look like anything. It actually took two dermatologists to diagnose it. They needed to look under a microscope to try to find my face,’ she said.
The Sydney nurse is now on a mission to encourage others to be diligent with skin checks and protect their skin by applying sunscreen everyday, regardless of the weather.
She’s now on a mission to encourage others to be diligent about skin-checking and protecting their skin by applying sunscreen everyday — regardless of the weather (pictured with husband)
From 2009 to 2018, dermatologists found Senna all over her body — including her nose, forehead, ears, chest and calves.
To add to her painful decade, Melissa was diagnosed with breast cancer and nearly died of sepsis in 2017 after a gynecological procedure gone wrong.
But it’s the fight against skin cancer she’s promoting online, to warn millions of sun-loving Australians about the consequences of not protecting your skin.
Nowadays, Melissa has to undergo a painful facial treatment every year, which leaves her skin blistery red, peeling, and sore—all done as a precaution to make sure she doesn’t get on her forehead. Don’t let Bowen’s disease invade his bloodstream.
One of the scariest shocks of all was when dermatologists confirmed that Melissa had melanoma in her left ear.
Pictured after daylight photodynamic therapy (DPDT)
“It was a total shock because the word is synonymous with cancer — it’s top-notch because melanoma has gone into the deepest layer of the skin and is about to invade,” she said.
‘I was very lucky because it was caught during the stage 0 stage – it hadn’t invaded the bloodstream yet.’
Doctors performed surgery on Melissa in 2018 to remove the melanoma and reconstruct her ear.
Before the procedure, she asked the doctors to inspect a spot of concern in her scalp—which turned out to be Bowen’s disease.
“It’s been a real journey and my confidence has been shaken because your face is how you present yourself to the world,” she said.
‘But I came out of this world a softer person knowing more and the importance of taking care of your skis.’
He now needs daylight photodynamic therapy for the rest of his life, a treatment that uses sunlight as the light source to treat superficial skin cancers.
Melissa said the painful process involves “scratching the surface of the skin as if with sand paper” to exfoliate — focusing on areas with the most sun damage.
For Melissa it was her nose and forehead.
Then a ‘photosynthesis agent’ is applied followed by a heavy sunscreen.
From 2009 to 2018 the brave mom has endured brutal trauma as dermatologists picked up lumps all over her body – on her nose, forehead, ears, chest and calves.
She said, ‘None of my troop ever looked so black and scary’
Melissa’s cancer journey at a glance:
2009 Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) spot found on left shoulder was found and removed
2009-2013 Annual skin checkups and cryotherapy treatments to prevent further concerns
2014 – A biopsy is performed on the back of the right calf to remove a potentially sinister site. The right calf was treated with cryotherapy since 2014 because it had features of the BCC type
2016 – Spot on calf was not responding so biopsy was done and removed with wide margin in dermatologists room
The cancer was getting worse, and cryotherapy wasn’t enough to stop it. Started photodynamic therapy in daylight on her entire face – forehead and nose were worst affected
2017 – Another BCC army was detected on the nose and removed. required plastic surgery and a skin graft from my forehead
2018 Melanoma was found on the left tragus of the ear, which was removed. Plastic surgery was required to reconstruct the ear. Thankfully no grafts were needed this time
2018 – Another BCC was found on right upper chest which was removed by plastic surgery and forehead/scalp biopsy in theatre.
It came back as Bowen’s disease, (squamous cell carcinoma in situ). It was removed a few weeks later under plastic surgery with a large margin.
2022 – Diagnosed with breast cancer and took a year off skin treatments because of this
Now: Bi-annual skin surveillance and painless daylight photodynamic therapy every year to rule out superficial and deep cancers
When she was first treated she had to expose herself completely to the sun for two hours to activate the agent to ‘kill only the cancer cells’.
The skin may feel burnt and flaky for up to seven days, or sometimes longer, after the treatment.
The first time she had it done in 2017, it uncovered another basal cell carcinoma on the side of her nose, which was then removed, and in 2018 another BCC was removed from her right upper chest.
BCC is the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer, which often appears red or yellow and lumpy.
The deadliest form is melanoma and can be fatal if left untreated.
Worryingly, none of Melissa’s carcinomas look like a ‘clear cancerous mole’.
‘None of my army has ever looked so black and scary,’ he said.
‘Since 2005 my skin has been bumpy, red in texture and scaly. It was painful to brush my hair because there were forces, but I didn’t know it at the time, and it bleeds often.
‘When I dried my face with a towel, my skin would bleed because it was so scaly.’
Dermatologists found the first BCC on Melissa’s shoulder in 2009.
Little did she know that this was the beginning of a series of ongoing health scares that would include painful treatments, surgeries, and crippling fear.
By 2013 she had annual skin exams and regular cryotherapy treatments over her entire face, shoulders and back—including any sun spots and hidden pre-cancerous legs.
In 2014 she had a biopsy on the back of her calf and a checkup revealed another potentially sinister lump with ‘BCC-type features’.
‘ This is where you would least expect to have a problem. But if you think about it, when you walk the sun hits the back of your feet without you realizing it,’ Melissa said.
As of 2016, it was still not responding.
At the time Melissa said the cancer was ‘clearly getting worse’ and cold therapy ‘just wasn’t enough’ to battle against the other giants emerging from the surface of the skin.
This is when she started daylight photodynamic therapy.
Melissa says it all could have been prevented if she wore sunscreen as a child and teenager
Melissa says all of this could have been prevented if she wore sunscreen as a child and teenager.
‘We were constantly burning out as kids. I have vivid memories of my sister and me sitting in front of a fan applying lotion to protect myself from burns, then days later peeling my skin off,’ she recalled.
‘My siblings and I used to go to school with blisters on our backs and shoulders on some days due to sunburn. And I don’t tan, I just burn.
‘During the summer I think at that point it was normal to put on my SPF 15 sunblock and go out for a day at the pool – and never think to reapply.’
Her petite body will be perfectly red with the silhouette outline of her one-piece swimsuit.
As a teenager her ‘whole world centered around the beach’ as she attended an all-girls school in Manly and was constantly tanning after school in the summer.
‘Peer pressure to stress was just as intense as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol,’ she said.
What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer: melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
Melanoma: The deadliest form of skin cancer and if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in color, shape, or size.
basal cell carcinoma: The most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer. Appears as a red, yellow, or pearly, lump or dry, scaly area. Grows slowly, usually on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun.
Carcinoma of the skin cells: A thick, red scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate. Grows over a few months, usually on areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. It is more likely to occur in people over the age of 50.
‘I need to get the message out there to people that skin cancer is not what you think and you need to get your skin checked by a dermatologist every year,’ he said.
‘At the time I was living my carefree teenage life and followed what all my friends did. I used the lowest amount of SPF to get the deepest tan possible, and now I think about it and just shudder.
‘The damage I’ve done is too intense. I will always have skin cancer on my face. I am not going to be free from it at all, which is scary.