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Personal cancer story

Grace Hamill

My skin cancer journey began a lot earlier than most.

An unusual mole was making me uncomfortable and I had spoken to a number of doctors about it over the course of a few years. None of them thought it was an issue.

Grace Hamill

Ultimately, with my mum in tow for moral support, I requested a doctor to remove it, explaining that I would feel better knowing it was no longer there. He agreed, and I underwent the simple routine procedure.

A few weeks later I went back to get the stitches removed. My dad waited with my younger brother in the car and I entered the doctor's office on my own, knowing it would only take a few minutes. Within minutes, I was rushed into the nearby surgery room after being told I had a stage 2 melanoma. Twenty stitches later, I returned to the car overwhelmed by my experience.

I was 16 at the time.

It took a while for me to heal – not just in the physical sense. Emotionally, I was pretty traumatised, as it was the last thing I expected to experience. My doctor was as taken aback. He admired my insistence in getting checked and my awareness of my own skin. "You saved your own life and I'm really proud of you," he said. "You're the hero of your own story."

Despite the shock, I too was proud of myself and felt a sense of confidence in my knowledge of my own body.

Skin cancer isn't something that just happens to older people who have spent a lifetime chasing a tan. No one is immune and it's up to you to pick up on the signs."

Grace Hamill

In December that year, I had another spot on my neck removed just as a precaution. Shortly after, on the day before my 17th birthday, mum sat me down and told me the doctors called with bad news – I had another melanoma. It was more serious than my last experience and I was booked in to see a plastic surgeon at John Flynn Hospital on the Gold Coast. I spent that Christmas in a neck brace. It was another rough time, but I remained positive that it wasn't picked up too late.

Living in Byron, most people I know worship the sun. It's often hard for me to watch because I know what the end result can be. I have pretty obvious scars: one on my neck and one on my back. I don't see them as being ‘bad’ because I get so many questions as a result of them. I'm always happy to answer these questions and I like that my scars give me opportunities to share my story.

I believe my scars help people understand that skin cancer isn't something that just happens to older people who have spent a lifetime chasing a tan. No one is immune and it's up to you to pick up on the signs.

My mum has a history of skin cancer. She was a typical Byron girl and spent her younger days soaking up the sun on the beach. She was diagnosed and treated when I was four, so as a result I was always the most sun-protected kid on the beach. I thank her for that and I always make sure I mention that to people who ask about my story. Staying sun protected definitely lowered my risk of skin cancer, but it didn't make me invincible.

Knowing my skin and watching out for any changes is ultimately what saved my life (twice). Mum's bad experience meant that she encouraged us to adopt good health habits. Her support was a huge factor in my being so insistent about investigating my first unusual mole.

Knowing your body is only ever a positive thing, and taking the time out to be observant of any changes can be the difference between acting in time and finding out too late.

Be observant, be aware, and be curious about your own body. That's my advice and I stand by it because it's the reason my skin cancer story has a happy ending. If you have a question, notice something unusual about your skin or a change you're uncomfortable with, see a doctor. Ask questions until you get answers and remember that no one knows your skin better than you.

It's up to you to be aware of your skin – it's a responsibility you can't afford to shun!

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer