Terminally ill Leeds skin cancer patient in plea over sun safety

A terminally ill cancer patient who has been treated in Leeds for more than 10 years  is urging people to urgently change their unhealthy relationship with the sun.

Monday, 9th August 2021, 4:45 pm
Jacqui Drake

Jacqui Drake, 58, has stage 4 melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.

She had her first melanoma in her twenties, but after having a mole removed from her leg, the cancer returned 17 years later.

Jacqui said: "Britain perhaps has a more lackadaisical approach to the sun compared to those in sunnier climes, but that only makes it more dangerous.

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"Just because you’re not flying to a beach holiday, it doesn’t mean you should forget the sunscreen.”

National public health awareness on sun protection has proven to reduce melanoma rates.

In Australia, their Slip! Slop! Slap! Awareness campaign has resulted in melanoma rates plummeting in the past 18 years.

Since 2009, Jacqui, from Bradford, had three operations to remove the cancer on her leg, but it then travelled in her blood to her lungs, and in 2015 her right lung had to be removed.

She’s suffered colitis as a result of chemo, and pneumocystis and almost lost her life.

Jacqui has been treated at Leeds Cancer Centre for over a decade since she was diagnosed with stage four malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer.

Leeds Cancer Centre’s five-year survival rates for melanoma is significantly higher than average.

Funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity supported The Melanoma Research Group at Leeds Teaching Hospitals to undertake the biggest research survey of its kind in the world; 2,184 melanoma patients took part.

It explored the role of inflammation, typically associated with obesity, diabetes, poor diet and little exercise on survival rates. This helps identify patients who could benefit from drugs, which lower the causes of inflammation and increase their chance of survival.

Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, professor of dermatology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “Our theory was that how we live influences immune responses.

"So, we’re now talking to patients more about their health; take regular exercise, don't smoke or vape, take a healthy diet, low meat, high veggie, no sugar, try fermented food.

"And the good news is that modest amounts of dark chocolate constitutes fermented food. Don't get sunburned, but avoid vitamin D deficiency.”

Despite being clinically vulnerable, the choreographer and dance teacher ran her ‘Jacqui’s Million Appeal’ raising funds throughout the pandemic.

To date, she’s raised over £252k for the Leeds Cancer Centre, which is part of Leeds Hospitals Charity, to provide specialist equipment, support research projects, and improve the ward environment for cancer patients.

Dr Amir Khan, Ambassador at Leeds Hospitals Charity, said: “Jacqui is a remarkable force of positivity, and I have huge admiration for her work raising awareness and funds. More awareness is needed.

" Few people know for instance that skin cancer can develop in the mouth, nails and eyes.

" Like any cancer, it’s important to catch it as early as possible, but prevention is of course vital. It’s not just sunny days we need to worry about, but UV strength on cloudy days.

" We need to apply the right sun protection - UVA and UVB - with Factor 50 for children, and to apply it throughout the day. A bottle of sun cream should last two days.”

To help change behaviours in parents and children, Jacqui recently published her first children’s book - Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen - in collaboration with fellow cancer patient, Sandra Hudson, to highlight the importance of sun protection.

The book normalises hats, and sun cream alongside buckets and spades as three children go on an adventure in the sun. Just as we teach children to wash their hands after using the bathroom, or brush their teeth before bed, she feels sun protection should be an everyday measure.

Jacqui said: “It’s just normalising the behaviour of wearing a hat, putting on sun cream, and so on, not scaring children, we don’t mention the ‘C’ word anywhere in the story. You wouldn’t send a child out into the snow without a coat, why would you send them out in the sun without adequate protection?”

Jacqui’s ambition is for her book to be widely available in schools, on airplanes, and in holiday parks to help foster a healthier relationship with the sun from an early age.

To make a donation, go to: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jacquismillion

To purchase a copy of Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen, for £5, with all profits going to Jacqui’s Million, contact Jacqui directly via email at [email protected]