Leeds mum of four’s 16 year battle with skin cancer

Jo Kersley with her four children.
Jo Kersley with her four children.
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This weekend saw 26C in Leeds. But one woman knows all too well the dangers of not protecting your skin. Catherine Scott reports.

Jo Kersley was just 26 when she was first diagnosed with skin cancer and she has spent the last 16 years battling the disease.

Now during Sun Awareness Month Jo, from Sherburn in Elmet, has joined Yorkshire Cancer Research and Yorkshire County Cricket Club in a campaign urging people to be aware of the symptoms of the disease and to cover up during the summer months.

Jo, a PA at First Direct, was first diagnosed with basal cell carcenoma after noticing a small patch of dry skin o nher back.

The 42-year-old mum of four has since undergone treatment for a number of lesions, primarily on her back but more recently on her face, ear and the back of her neck.

She is now helping Yorkshire Cancer Research to highlight the importance of sun safety and early detection as part of its Sun Awareness campaign, which the charity is running in partnership with Yorkshire County Cricket Club.

“I had noticed a small patch of dry skin on my back which started as tiny speck and grew to about the size of a finger nail,” says Jo. “It would flake and bleed and I would often find blood marks on my clothes.

“Initially, doctors thought I was too young to have skin cancer and treated me for eczema and other skin conditions. I then moved house and my new GP, Dr Catriona Osman, recognised the symptoms and referred me to Dr Kathryn Thompson, consultant dermatologist at York Hospital.

“I was pregnant with my daughter at the time so my treatment was delayed, but once she was born I was able to have my lesion treated with Photodynamic therapy (PDT), a non-invasive treatment, which has left me with scarring on my right shoulder.

“Over the years I was treated for four or five carcinomas. These were cut out and removed due to the PDT not being as effective for me as it should have been. The process was very simple and I was usually back at work the next day, with bandages.”

Jo became used to spotting the warning signs of skin cancer, and would visit her doctor whenever she noticed an unusual change in her skin.

However, during the past year, her lesions have become more aggressive and she was referred to Dr Walayat Hussain, a Consultant Dermatological and MOHs Micrographic Surgeon based at Chapel Allerton Hospital in Leeds. She underwent three separate operations to remove further carcinomas and reconstruct her ear, forehead and the back of her neck.

“The first operation, on my ear, came as a bit of a shock because I hadn’t realised that the operation was going to be quite as extensive. Afterwards my head was heavily bandaged, resembling a mummy. It really took it out of me and I was a bit emotional afterwards. I needed a week off to recover. In hindsight, they were big operations but Dr Hussain did an amazing job and when I tell people what happened they ask where the cancer was.”

Since being diagnosed with skin cancer, Jo has become much more vigilant when spending time outdoors. She wears a moisturiser with factor 15-20 sunscreen every day, even in winter, and wears a hat to stay protected in the sun. Jo now attends three-monthly check-ups with Dr Thomson and will do for the rest of her life.

“I’m very freckly and pale and when I was young we went abroad on holiday quite a lot. We weren’t as aware of the dangers of the sun and didn’t wear as much cream as we should have,” says Jo.

“I also used sunbeds a few times in my mid-teens, usually before holidays, but not on a regular basis. Again, the awareness of these was not as it is today. Now I’m very careful, especially with my four children. I make sure they wear t-shirts so their shoulders aren’t exposed and that they wear a high factor sun cream wherever it’s needed. I would urge everyone to be aware of the dangers of the sun no matter what age you are and get checked out if you notice anything that doesn’t look right.”

Yorkshire Cancer Research is the official charity partner of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, the Yorkshire Cricket Foundation and the Yorkshire Cricket Board for the 2016 season.

The organisations are working together to reduce the impact of cancer in Yorkshire, especially in young people. Together, they aim to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer, the importance of an early diagnosis and the steps people can take to stay safe in the sun while enjoying outdoor sports during the summer months.

For more information about the partnership, visit www.ycr.org.uk/yccc

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