Two sisters have warned people against using sunbeds after they were both diagnosed with skin cancer at the same time.
Sarah Burnside, 24, and her 19-year-old sister Rhianne Smith often used sunbeds both before and after their annual summer holidays.
But the pair, from Darlington in County Durham, said they didn’t realise just how dangerous using sunbeds can be – even if you only do it once.
Mum-of-two Sarah said after finding two suspicious looking moles on her foot and leg, she went to her GP and was told she had a deadly form of skin cancer.
Then after learning of her sister’s diagnosis, Rhianne Smith, 19, decided to get the moles on her face checked and was also diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer.
Council worker Sarah said: ‘It’s definitely scary hearing the word cancer. At first, I was relieved and just felt lucky that I’d found it early because if I hadn’t, we don’t know what would have happened.
‘My family were more upset than me because it was just operations and I can handle that and I was just happy I didn’t have to have chemotherapy.
‘But when Rhianne was diagnosed, that was worse. I hadn’t really cried about myself but when I found out about her I cried and cried because it’s my little sister.
‘I would rather it have been me again. She’s only 19 and it was on her face.’
The mum-of-two was diagnosed with skin cancer on her foot in June and after insisting that doctors also remove a ‘chunk’ from her leg to get rid of another mole, she was diagnosed with skin cancer for a second time in July.
Sarah said: ‘I got two new moles on my foot and leg that I didn’t like the look of.
‘The one on my foot was irregular and darker and the one on my leg changed colour every day.
‘Some days it was purple, some days it was blue or red and someone had posted on Facebook that they had found out they had skin cancer so I went to get the moles checked by a dermatologist.
‘They weren’t worried about the mole on my leg but they were worried about the one on my foot so that was removed.
‘I asked them to remove the one on my leg as well because I had a feeling and that was also cancerous.
‘After I had my second diagnosis, the doctor said he’d never seen a 24-year-old with two melanomas.
‘If you aren’t happy with a mole and you have a gut feeling that it’s not right, ask to have it removed because if I didn’t ask, I’d still have the cancerous mole on my leg.
‘If I hadn’t been diagnosed with skin cancer twice then Rhianne would never have gone to get her mole checked.’
Her worried siste rushed to get her moles checked as she was a more avid sunbed user than her sister, and was also diagnosed with skin cancer in her face in August.
Psychology and counselling student Rhianne said: ‘After I was diagnosed, I kept trying to distract myself so it wasn’t until about three days later when it hit me that I’m only 19 and I have skin cancer and so does my sister.
‘Our mum blames herself even though it’s not her fault but she just wants to take it away from us.
‘I had a mole on my face which started changing and with it being on my face I noticed that it was getting smaller so when Sarah was diagnosed I thought I definitely needed to get it checked.
‘Never in a million years when I was using the sunbed did I think I’d be diagnosed with skin cancer but I’m 19 and I’ve had to have a mole cut out of my face and I’ll be scarred forever now.’
Sarah would have 40 minutes worth of sunbed sessions over the space of two weeks before a summer holiday as she believed it would protect her skin from the heat when she was abroad, and two nine-minute sessions a week when she got back to top up her tan.
Sister Rhianne would use the sunbed twice a week in the weeks leading up to a holiday.
Sarah said: ‘I’ve learned since that even just one sunbed session can increase the risk of skin cancer.
‘I’d heard myths about how using the sunbed before a holiday can protect you, I didn’t have any idea how dangerous just one session is.
‘I thought the only people who got skin cancer were older people who’d abused sunbeds for years and never wore sun cream. I didn’t realise that one sunbed could make a difference.
‘Don’t think it’s never going to happen to you. We know lung cancer exists but people still smoke. A tan isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth skin damage, cancer, or wrinkles. You can get a tan from a bottle.
‘I’ve lost count of the messages I’ve had from people saying they’ll never use a sunbed again after what happened to me and they’re getting moles checked and that’s the best thing to come out of it.”
Rhianne added: ‘It could happen to anyone. I used to have the mindset that it wouldn’t happen to me. I wear suncream every day now, whatever the weather is like.’
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