What is your name?
Hi, my name is Jess Van Zeil.
How did you discover your skin melanoma?
My melanoma was initially on the white of the eye, it started off as a red spot that looked like a burst blood vessel... something my mum noticed when I was young and although we asked about it over the years no one seemed to be phased. When I was in my later teens the spot had become highly vascularised, raised and red. I was sent to an ophthalmologist, where I had a biopsy done, this came back as benign. 6 months later I had 3 black spots (they looked like skin moles). They grew on the white of my eye and I ignored them thinking they were also just going to be benign.
Eventually, while I was travelling, I went to see a doctor and he did another biopsy... this one, however, came back as melanoma. Since then, I have lost my eye, had a seizure, had brain surgery, relearned how to walk, been diagnosed as stage 4. I should have been given a prognosis of 6-16 weeks in September 2016 and thanks to some incredible treatments and surgeons that was not my fate, BUT I know this is something I will live with for the rest of my life.
What lifestyle changes have you made since?
It threw my life on its head, I have always loved being outdoors, from hiking to playing at the beach, but after being diagnosed with melanoma I became terrified of the sun. For a long time, I just avoided being outside and that was really hard. Eventually, I realised I needed to be living my life and found ways to stay protected but still be outside. Now I always have sunscreen with me where ever I go, I wear sun protective clothing, usually wearing a hat and sunglasses. I also do try and avoid being in direct sunlight during the peak hours of UV exposure. But I live my life and enjoy every single day. Having melanoma I know I dodged a bullet and it's so important to live every day so fully, being SunSmart has not taken that away from me! I also have 6 monthly skin checks and encourage my family, friends, and everyone out there to have a yearly skin check, a quick check could save your life.
What is your attitude towards sun protection today?
It is the most important thing. Life is precious, don't take it for granted for something as simple as a tan. I am a massive advocate for being SunSmart, not only have I changed my behaviours but I have helped my family and friends change theirs. I also had sunscreen dispensers put into the Peter Mac hospital. I wrote in a letter saying that it was an insult to have no smoking signs around the hospital but to not have sunscreen available freely within the hospital.
What would you tell your 16 year old self about sun protection?
- Sunburn is not just an oh well, it can result in cancer that kills more young Australians aged 19-35 than any other cancer!
- Getting a tan is not healthy. Melanoma isn't just for redheads and old people who have spent a lifetime in the sun, it happens to people just like you.
- Bob Marley died because of a melanoma under his toenail, nobody is immune.
- Protect your skin, you and your beautiful life are worth it.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jess, with us and our Solbari Community.
The Solbari Team