WARNING: GRAPHIC PHOTOS BELOW
Anthea Smith, who said she started tanning with the rest of her family at age 14, allegedly first noticed a small red lump on her ear in her adult years. The 43-year-old told Kennedy News and Media that the flesh-colored growth was repeatedly dismissed by doctors until it developed a black, brown tone and began spreading. She had shown a nurse her ear while undergoing an exam in 2014, and was immediately booked for an appointment the next day.
She claims she was sent to a dermatologist at St. Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals for Trust for another lesion on her skin, but that tests revealed it to be benign. It wasn’t until she finally was sent to a plastic surgeon for her ear in 2015 that she was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma.
Unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings or changes in the way skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. New spots on the skin or changing shapes, size or color can also signal trouble. The organization suggests following the “ABCDE” rule when it comes to monitoring moles and marks, meaning check for asymmetry, border, color, diameter and evolving features.
They also suggest monitoring for sores that won’t heal, spread of pigment onto surrounding skin, redness or swelling, itchiness or tenderness, and scaling, oozing or bleeding. Smith said her lump had started scabbing over, was itchy and had begun bleeding whenever it was touched before she was diagnosed.
“If it hadn’t been for the plastic surgeon moving so quickly then I probably wouldn’t be alive today,” the mom to two boys told Kennedy News and Media. “It’s scary. I feel like the GP (general physician) and the dermatologist let me down very much. At that point the lesion had been there for five years. It was a long time.”
Smith underwent two operations in 2015 to remove her outer and inner ear, lymph nodes, tragus, salivary glands and temporal bones, according to Kennedy News and Media. Skin from her thigh was used to cover the hole left by the amputation, and she lost her hearing on the left side.
“I recovered as best I could from that and then I had 32 sessions of head and neck radiotherapy in January 2016,” she told the news outlet. “It was absolutely brutal.”
She said the treatment robbed her of her sense of taste and left her with lesions inside her mouth and throat and on her face. She was eventually fitted with a prosthetic ear from the Aintree Prosthesis department which helps her wear glasses, and follow-up scans have showed no evidence of the disease since 2016.
“I’ve always been a worrier but now I live as fully in the moment as I can,” she told the news outlet, while on vacation in Australia. “I try not to look too far back into my past because I can’t change what happened to me. I can’t predict the future.”
Smith said she’s telling her story in hopes of working toward getting tanning beds banned, and believes that people don’t necessarily understand the dangers of exposing skin to powerful rays.
“It doesn’t get cut out and it’s gone,” she told Kennedy News and Media. “You live with it for as long as you can live. I’ve had half my head removed. I’m not a martyr. I don’t preach. But I will preach to save lives.”
A mother in Chicago was prompted to issue a similar warning to young teens and adults who tan without protection from the sun after she was left with a giant hole in her face.
“Stop tanning,” Carrie Doles told MDW Features. “Your skin will thank you when you are older.”