Skin cancer has woken me up to sun danger
It’s been a glorious week – but for US singer Jennifer Paige, the sun is no fun. The 43-year-old mum is still reeling from being diagnosed with potentially lethal melanoma
I have always had lots of freckles and moles and in 2011 I noticed a freckle on my right cheek that seemed to be getting bigger.
I went to a dermatologist to see if they could remove it. At the time, no one mentioned it might be skin cancer so I had treatment to lighten it. But over time it came back – and I guess that was a bad sign.
I went back to have it checked out. I wasn’t prepared at all for the result – I had skin cancer. It was a massive shock.
And it wasn’t just skin cancer, but melanoma, which is potentially a really deadly disease that can spread to other parts of the body. It sent my world into a tailspin.
The doctors removed a huge chunk of skin on my cheek, which left a wound so I had to wear a plaster on it as it healed.
But when they checked the surrounding area after the operation, there were still skin cancer cells there, so I had to have more surgery to cut out even more skin.
It was a really scary, tough time. And because the cancer was on my face, I couldn’t switch off from it. I was also self-conscious about the scar.
I was working as a musician and starting to put together a Christmas album but this cancer just stopped everything in its tracks. I couldn’t be photographed and my health suddenly had to take priority over my music.
As a child, growing up in the hot, Deep South of the US, I was pretty much like every other child – playing outdoors. Back then in the 70s, there wasn’t a lot of awareness of how the sun could damage skin. I can’t remember my mum saying I should wear sunscreen when the weather was hot.
As a teenager, I used to lie out by the pool once in a while and I moved to sunny California when I was 19. A year later, I went on a vacation to Hawaii, where I fell asleep in the sun one day and got one of those horrible blistering sunburns. I felt really unwell and it took 10 days for my skin to heal properly.
Maybe it was that sun damage all those years ago that caused the melanoma to develop. I have very fair skin and have always burned easily. I also discovered, some time after my skin cancer diagnosis, that a distant relative has had skin cancer – it does run in families too.
That first year of treatment was very hard. Every three months I had to be thoroughly checked and other areas of skin that the doctors wanted to check out were removed too. I started
putting frankincense on my scar to help it heal, which did help. But it took several months before my face was fully healed and everything calmed down.
It was only in 2012 that I began to feel like my life was getting back on track. My three-month check-ups eventually became every six months. I am now fastidious about applying sunblock and staying out of the sun whenever I can.
In 2014, becoming a mum for the first time strengthened my resolve to be even more healthy and aware of my body. Nashville has very hot, sunny summers so I make sure my daughter has sunscreen on all the time.
It isn’t very obvious but I can see the scar on my face, which is across my right cheekbone.
I use a sunblock every day and always put a moisturiser with SPF on my face. I’ve now reached the cancer all-clear after the five-year mark. One thing I cannot understand is how anyone can still use a sunbed. Skin cancer is so dangerous – no one should be increasing their risk of developing it.
Jennifer is performing at the Walled Garden festival, Brightling Park, East Sussex, July 14-16, walledgardenmusicfest.co.uk
COVER STAR Jennifer Paige