A Belfast man who was diagnosed with skin cancer is urging others that “a tan is not worth dying for”.
Connor Graham received his diagnosis in January and has said if he could go back in time, he would.
The 35-year-old from Four Winds admits he is now learning from his mistakes, and says the psychological scarring over the past few months is worse than the physical scars.
The surveyor said: “I was born with quite a few moles. Therefore, as a child I was always told to take special care in the sun. Despite having two moles removed in my teenage years it would be fair to say that as I became an adult I was pretty lackadaisical when it came to sun safety. I took colour really easily and to be honest, I enjoyed being complimented on it.
“I would holiday with the boys and when some of my mates applied high factor sun cream, I just thought that’s so boring, why would you want to come home as white as you had arrived?
Connor wants to help others from his own experience
(Image: Action Cancer)
“If only I could go back in time and speak a word of warning to my younger, carefree self who would spend all day in the sun and wore factor 15 at a push.”
Connor has worked outdoors on construction sites, which has increased his exposure to the sun and its harmful rays.
His sun exposure was also increased by not taking proper care while enjoying a round of golf, as he admitted: “I used to think that it wasn’t a good day on the golf course, unless I got burnt.”
When Connor entered his early 30s, his care-free attitude changed.
He added: “My wife and I had a family friend who died from skin cancer. This came as a huge personal shock to me, it hit me like a brick wall. Here was a man who had just recently started to enjoy his retirement and spend more time with his family when he received a late stage skin cancer diagnosis. His death was the turning point that prompted me to change my behaviour.”
The Belfast man then became more vigilant, wearing factor 50 sun cream, covering up, keeping out of the sun during peak times and also checking his moles on a monthly basis.
By keeping a close eye, Connor’s attention was alerted to two moles on his arm and one on his stomach in the summer of 2020.
During the pandemic his GP was not seeing patients so Connor sent photographs across on WhatsApp that started the ball rolling with him being referred to dermatology.
The three moles were extracted with one on his right arm and also one on his stomach proving to be more problematic as both had turned into a malignant melanoma – which Action Cancer say is the more concerning type of skin cancer.
A sizeable amount of surrounding tissue from Connor’s arm and stomach was removed and he was left with quite bad scarring.
The cancer was caught at an early stage – stage 1b – and was all removed during the extractions. The surveyor is now under continual assessment and review to ensure that any further changes to his skin are picked up quickly.
Connor added: “To be honest I have found the psychological scarring of all of this to be greater than the physical scars. Action Cancer’s counselling service has really helped me to deal with my diagnosis. My Counsellor, Bernie, has enabled me to open up about my feelings in a safe environment, be it in person in Action Cancer House or via video call.
“I feel that now is the time for me to give something back, I see this is part of my therapy. If by sharing my story I can encourage one person to sit up and take note then it will all be worth it.
“I used to think that cancer was a disease for older people. Boy was I wrong. At the age of 35 I’m having to deal with what has happened to me and the potential fear of cancer returning to me again. Learn from my mistakes and please respect the sun. If not for your own sake, then for the sake of your loved ones. A tan is not worth dying for.”
Action Cancer’s Cancer Awareness programme which includes information on skin cancer and sun safety is available to organisations and community groups. Counselling and complementary therapies are also on offer to anyone affected by a skin cancer diagnosis.
Visit www.actioncancer.org or call 028 8090 3344 to find out more.