Faye Ryder, 29, South-east London shares her story...
It had been sitting there on the left side of my face for 10 long years.
And I hated it!
The mole was only about the width of a pea, and slightly raised.
I covered it in make-up every day, but it was a chore.
‘There must be something I can do about it,’ I moaned to my partner, Wayne, 30.
When it first appeared on my face, I’d thought about having it removed. But then I had two children, and the mole went on the back-burner.
So around Christmas last year I went to see my GP.
‘We don’t remove moles on the NHS for cosmetic reasons,’ he explained.
Determined, I searched online. Found a YouTube video which suggested putting tea tree oil on it every night before bed and covering it with a plaster.
It was supposed to dry it up so it’d drop off.
So that’s what I did…
Night after night I dabbed on tea tree oil, then stuck on a plaster.
The mole got smaller. And it started bleeding.
I stopped the tea tree oil.
Then it started getting bigger…and bigger…and bigger!
‘It’s growing back with a family,’ I joked to friends and family.
Truth was, though, I felt like crying – not laughing.
The mole looked worse than ever.
So I went back to the doctor’s.
‘It’s itchy and blisters, bleeds and bubbles,’ I explained.
The doctor referred me to hospital – and, there, the specialist told me the bad news.
‘It’s a nodular basal cell carcinoma,’ she explained. ‘A form of skin cancer.’
I burst into tears, distraught.
‘Don’t worry,’ she reassured me. ‘We’ll cut it out and you’ll only be left with a scar about an inch big.’
‘An inch!’ I gasped, horrified.
At just 29 years old, I was conscious of how I looked.
That’s why I’d wanted rid of the mole in the first place.
And now I was being told I’d be left with a scar the size of a 2p piece on my face.
‘I don’t want it cut out,’ I insisted.
‘OK,’ the doctor said. ‘Mohs surgery is a precise technique used to treat skin cancer in which thin layers of cancer-containing skin are removed gradually until the skin is cancer-free.’
It sounded like the best option. So, about two months later – in March this year – Wayne came with me to the cancer centre at another hospital.
He held my hand as I was given a local anaesthetic to numb my face and a pill to calm me.
Then the first layer of skin was removed.
I could see them working on my face, feel the skin being tugged this way and that.
After about 40 minutes, I was bandaged up and sent to sit in a special waiting area while they tested the skin they’d removed.
Then I was back to have another procedure. And another…
By the end of the day I’d had four layers of skin removed and a piece of skin grafted from my cheek to the side of my nose.
‘If it had spread any further you could have lost your nose,’ doctors explained.
‘I want to see the scars,’ I asked nurses.
They refused, insisting it was bandaged up.
By the time we went home I was pretty out of it after all the drugs, and terrified of what I looked like under the bandages.
I had to take strong painkillers – and, three days later, I looked in the mirror one morning and had a shock.
‘I’ve got a big black eye!’ I gasped.
Talk about a mess!
So far the black eye still hasn’t gone away.
I’m waiting for the doctors to find out why.
A week later, I saw the damage under the bandages for the first time – when I went back to hospital to have the stitches removed.
I burst into tears as I saw the huge line of stitches snaking up my face on my cheek and nose.
‘I look like a monster,’ I sobbed.
‘You still look beautiful,’ Wayne tried to reassure me.
Back at home,I noticed the area around the skin graft had turned scabby and green.
It was infected, so I was given antibiotics to clear it up.
Finally, after three weeks of bandages, I had a big plaster put on instead.
Eventually, the scar had healed enough for me to expose my wounds to the world.
When my 4-year-old boy saw it, he looked horrified.
‘Don’t worry, Mummy will be beautiful again one day,’ I told him.
‘No you won’t!’ he replied.
I can’t help but worry that he might be right.
But it’s not just about my looks. The old Faye has gone.
My confidence has plummeted so much that I hate going out.
I’ve started doing my shopping online and had to run out of a parents’ evening the other day because I could feel everyone staring.
I’ve got bi-polar disorder, too, so my anxiety is hugely magnified. I’m going to start counselling.
I’m also more likely to develop skin cancer on another part of my body, so I can’t sunbathe, have to wear factor-50 sun cream every day, and a wide-brimmed hat if I go out in the sun on holiday.
Doctors don’t know why I got the skin cancer, because I was always protected from the sun as a child.
I’ll need regular checkups – but with the support of Wayne, the children and my family, I’m determined to get my life back on track.
Of course, if I hadn’t resorted to trying to get rid of the mole myself, the cancer may never have been discovered. The tumour would then have grown aggressively.
So in that way, I guess I am incredibly lucky.