Health Stories

How a freckle did THIS

An innocent-looking freckle was something much more sinister

Here, Bethany Greenway, 41, tells the story in her own words.

Peering into the mirror as I applied make-up, something odd caught my eye.

Another freckle? I wondered

Fair-skinned and with red hair, I had a generous dusting of freckles all over my face and body.

But a new one had appeared on my forehead – and I knew right away it didn’t belong.

Heavily pregnant with my second child, I thought at first that it could be a liver spot.

But after giving birth to my daughter, Arabella, it looked more like a mole.

So I paid a visit to my dermatologist when Arabella was nine months old.

‘I have this giant liver spot,’ I told the doctor, pointing to the mark just above my brow.

‘It’s probably just pregnancy hormones,’ she explained.

But I had a feeling it could be something sinister.

Bethany and her girls
(Credit: Supplied)

My own mum had developed a melanoma at the age of 33, plus I’d got sunburnt a lot when I was younger, so I was always vigilant with check-ups.

I visited again when Arabella was two, telling the doctor my spot was now starting to ache.

‘Yes, that thing needs to get cut off,’ she agreed.

I was sent to a plastic surgeon, who took a biopsy and sent it off for testing.

Three weeks later, he called me.

‘The results came back positive for desmoplastic melanoma,’ he said gravely.

I sat there in silence, letting his words sink in. It was cancer.

He went on to say that the spot itself on my forehead was a melanoma, and the mole in the middle was desmoplastic, meaning the cancer had spread to my connective tissue.

I’d known something wasn’t right with that freckle.

My type of melanoma was incredibly rare, mostly affecting older men.

And because it was so deadly, I needed surgery to remove it right away.

I had two operations to remove skin and muscle on my face, as well as a lymph node behind my ear.

Doctors patched up the wound with skin grafted from my thigh.

Bethany lost her eyebrow
(Credit: Supplied)

Waking up afterwards, I was horrified by what it looked like.

A huge chunk of my forehead had been removed and my left eyebrow had vanished, leaving a painful, black-coloured dent.

I needed a compression bandage sewn on, to make my forehead skin accept the bit from my thigh.

The yellow, sponge-like bandage made it feel like I had a weird pet attached to my face!

Back at home, my girls Arabella, four, and Luciana, seven, took everything in their stride.

Neither of them was afraid when my face looked like a horror movie.

‘Mummy had some yucky skin on her face and I had to have it cut off,’ I explained.

I was still their mum – I just looked a little different.

While it was difficult to even look in the mirror some days, I decided to take photos of my progress and share them online.

Calling it my ‘melanoma photo diary’, I wanted to show friends, family and even strangers the raw, ugly reality of having skin cancer.

Taking selfies of my scar helped me to normalise my new face.

It was cathartic and made me feel less alone.

‘I don’t blame my faith in sunscreen for my cancer,’ I wrote on one post. ‘I cannot be angry at genetics, the sun, and my body’s reaction to it. Things happen and this is what is happening to me now.’

Wearing the compression bandage
(Credit: Supplied)

Hundreds of people left kind and supportive comments, thanking me for being so honest about cancer.

Slowly but surely, as my skin graft healed, it turned from black and scabby to red and itchy.

It almost looked like a piece of half-cooked bacon sitting on my forehead!

I even nicknamed my scar ‘Bacon’ when I provided updates on my Facebook page.

For a while, going outside was tough as people did double-takes and stared.

But I just kept smiling and showed my two girls what grace and kindness looked like.

And before long, I could use make-up to cover up the worst of it, or wear a strategically placed headband.

At the same time, I had immunotherapy infusions and intense radiation to my head and neck because the cancer had spread to my bone and lymph nodes.

The awful radiation fried the inside of my mouth, cooked my flesh and caused me to lose taste for ages.

It was hell, but worth it to see my little girls grow up.

She wants to warn others about the dangers of sunburn
(Credit: Supplied)

One year after I’d been diagnosed, I was told there was ‘no evidence’ of the disease in my body.

‘Mum is much better now,’ I told my girls.

Three years on, I’ve started facial reconstruction to fill the dent and I’ll get a new eyebrow too.

I want others to know how dangerous the sun can really be. There wasn’t a summer that passed where I didn’t get burned by deadly UV-rays.

A tan isn’t a healthy glow – it’s damaged skin.

You aren’t invincible.

Pay attention to your body, take care of it and get your skin checked regularly.

I hope my story shows the scary reality of what a so-called ‘innocent’ sunburn can lead to.

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