REAL LIFE

Doctors got it wrong: how a second opinion saved my life

She received the true diagnosis while 39 weeks pregnant.

At 39 weeks pregnant, Clair received a devastating diagnosis.

Here, Clair, 37, tells the story in her own words.

With carefree days running along the beach, my fondest memories are all outdoors.

Like most Aussie families, my weekends were spent camping or playing sports. I had a few sunburns over the years, some worse than others. But back then, nobody thought much of it. As an adult, I became much more aware of sun safety and lathered on the sunscreen.

When I was 24, I met and fell in love with Adam, now 33, and we got engaged. One morning, while doing my make-up in the mirror, I noticed a small spot on my left cheek.I mentioned it to my mum Kerrie later that day. ‘I’ve never noticed it before,’ I said. ‘Maybe it’s worth getting checked,’ she suggested. So I booked into a local skin cancer clinic.

A specialist assured me the spot was fine and I also underwent an overall skin check to be safe. I didn’t give the spot another thought, until around a year later when I saw someone I hadn’t seen for a while. ‘What’s that on your face?’ he asked. He was referring to the dark patch on my cheek, which must’ve grown noticeably bigger and darker.

Kerrie and her mum
My mum Kerrie and me – with the melanoma visible

With my wedding coming up, I decided to visit that same skin cancer clinic again.‘I think I should get this removed before the wedding,’ I said.

After examining the spot, the doc told me it was fine. ‘Removing it would only be for vanity reasons and could result in a scar,’ he explained.I left with the acceptance it was a part of me and I’d leave it. After a wonderful wedding, a year later we were thrilled to discover we were expecting our first baby.

Around the same time, I noticed the mark on my cheek seemed to have a reddish tinge but didn’t worry about it too much. Then a few weeks before my due date, I saw a dermatologist who took one look at my cheek and seemed concerned. ‘We need to do an immediate biopsy,’ he said.

Performing a punch biopsy, he told me to return the following week. Even though he seemed serious, I still wasn’t overly concerned as I’d been so reassured in the past. But as I walked back into his office a week later with Mum, he looked nervous. Taking a deep breath, I suddenly felt terrified. ‘It’s malignant – we need to get it removed as soon as possible,’ he revealed.

As Mum started sobbing, I went into action mode. ‘What do we do next?’ I asked. He told me that the melanoma was .8mm deep and I’d need to go to the Westmead Cancer Clinic the following week to see a surgical oncologist.

At that appointment – by then I was 39 weeks pregnant – the specialist suggested operating a couple of days later. But he noted I could possibly go into labour on the operating table. ‘So I could just wake up with my baby without knowing?’ I asked, shocked. ‘Unfortunately, yes,’ the doctor said. There was no way I wanted to risk that, insisting there must be another way. ‘I’ll wait until my baby is born,’ I said.

My labour and delivery just over a week later thankfully went very smoothly. My boy, Dax, was healthy and gorgeous and for a few days I even forgot about the daunting surgery. Then, inevitably, the day arrived. ‘You’ll be fine,’ Adam assured me, as I said goodbye to our newborn son. After being put to sleep for the op, next thing I knew I woke in recovery. The surgeon said it went well and they’d hopefully removed all of the melanoma. ‘But the incision is quite large – you needed around 200 stitches,’ he revealed.

I needed around 200 stitches.

When I finally mustered up the courage to look in the mirror I was shocked to the see the size of the scar. I had a huge 10cm by 10cm triangular shape on my cheek. ‘You still look beautiful,’ Adam reassured me.Although I was conscious of it, I felt relief the cancerous mole was now out of my body.

Ten days later, I returned to have the stitches removed. Looking in the mirror, I saw my scar as a sign of strength. The doc confirmed they’d definitely removed all of the cancer, and I didn’t require a lymph node biopsy. Despite the ordeal, I was one of the lucky ones.

A few years on, I get annual skin checks and will do so for the rest of my life. Although it’s faded, I can still see the scar on my cheek but it doesn’t faze me. Instead, I feel lucky the melanoma was on my cheek and not somewhere less noticeable.

Now, I’m a happy, healthy mum-of-four to Dax, eight, Elliot, six, Taj , five, and Bonnie, two. I also work as a marketing manager for Brightside Cover, a sponsor of this year’s Melanoma March, held to raise funds for melanoma research. It’s great to be able to do my bit to raise awareness. These days, I’m more sun safe than ever and ensure my kids are, too. I’ve showed my oldest two photos of my surgery and scar to explain why it’s so important to wear sunscreen and cover up. It’s always better to be sun safe than sorry.

Dax and mum
With Dax, three months post surgery

Read more in this week’s issue of that’s life!

Related stories