Sun lover always as 'brown as a berry'
Pamela Jones wishes sunbeds didn't exist.
Before her family holiday each year Mrs Jones would use a sunbed multiple times and was always "as brown as a berry" during summer.
She was diagnosed with melanoma in January 2013.
"It's amazing how one day can change your life."
Mrs Jones, from Devonport, does not know the definite cause of her cancer but says the sunbed sessions probably did not help.
Within two weeks of her diagnosis Mrs Jones was on the operating table for the first of five operations, which included flap surgery and a groin dissection.
She also had two five-week sessions of radiation therapy.
"Initially it was a massive shock. Then once you've got your head around it you decide, yes, I'm going to fight it and do everything I can," she says.
Melanoma is the most serious kind of skin cancer and New Zealand has the highest incidence in the world with more than 4000 cases diagnosed each year.
More than 300 Kiwis die from melanoma each year, which is more than the annual road toll.
For the last five months Mrs Jones has been part of a clinical drug trial because her cancer is inoperable.
She says life is back to normal and she is feeling "fantastic" about the future.
Although the drug is not a cure, it stops the cancer from growing in 40 to 50 per cent of melanoma cases.
Mrs Jones is urging people to regularly visit their GP for a skin check.
She had noticed a mole changing on her lower back, but did not get it checked straight away, thinking it might just have been irritated by her underwear.
"I can't say I wasn't aware of melanoma, but I had the attitude a lot of people have that ‘it happens to other people, not me'," she says.
Mrs Jones, 52, says she grew up in a generation where having a tan was fantastic and getting sunburnt was not really frowned upon.
"People would say ‘oh you got sunburnt, go and put some aloe vera on it'."
She says everyone would lather themselves in baby oil and lie in the sun.
"It was like putting cooking oil on your skin and we fried."
Now Mrs Jones will only go out in the sun for a walk or a swim in the morning or evening and always sits in the shade at the beach.
She has started volunteering for the Melanoma Foundation, which has just kicked off its annual Melanoma March campaign.
Ironman athlete Cameron Brown and MasterChef judge Josh Emmett have been named as the charity's official ambassadors.
A Go Spotty mufti day for schools and workplaces is on March 28.
Go to melanoma.org.nz.
North Shore Times