skin cancer journey: basal cell carcinoma (BCC) 🧴

I’m a 28-year-old woman with naturally auburn hair, fair-skinned and covered in freckles. Over the last year, I’ve been navigating getting a diagnosis and treatment for basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a common type of non-melanoma skin cancer. Although I have a family history of skin cancer, my knowledge of what this meant for me and how to treat it was very slim.

According to the NHS website, in the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly. (source)

I thought I’d share my own experience in one place, in a bid to hopefully help others and raise awareness. If you only take one thing from this, please remember that if something doesn’t look or feel right to you, get it checked.

my eczema

I’ve had eczema for over a decade, diagnosed in my late teens. As the years have passed, my eczema has got worse with the change of seasons, my diet, and my stress levels. In 2021, I noticed more flare-ups above my eyes and the doctors started prescribing me more steroid creams. I’ve only ever needed the lowest levels as it heals pretty quickly. I stripped back my skincare and I’ve managed to keep it at bay for years. I use Eumovate Cream which can be prescribed or bought over the counter at a Pharmacy.

the little red patch

Beginning of last year, I noticed a small red patch had formed in a new place I’d never had eczema between my chest and left arm. It was tiny, hardly noticeable, and wasn’t causing me any irritation. I applied my usual creams and went about my life. It wasn’t improving or disappearing, so I went to the doctor. He agreed it was just a stubborn patch of eczema, prescribing me a slightly stronger steroid cream.

My fiancé Benji was then diagnosed with a heart tumour, which obviously very much distracted me from my own health. However, a few months later with the red patch not budging and my Mum insisting I have it checked, I returned to the doctor. He prescribed yet another strong steroid. I was concerned it wasn’t healing, but it was a year-long wait to see a dermatologist. My doctor couldn’t put me forward until I had tried all the options.

steroid creams & getting a referral

Respecting my doctor’s decision, I went away and gave the next round of creams a go. We were at a very strong steroid at this point. I started exploring the prescription prepayment certificate on the NHS, as I was paying almost £10 per cream each time.

Once again, it didn’t work. I think it was my 3rd or 4th visit to the doctor when things finally changed. He prescribed me yet another cream (and a body wash), and we were now at the highest level of steroid. As he was typing out and printing me the paperwork, I burst into tears. I was exhausted from applying creams and seeing no results. The body wash sounded so clinical and horrible too. I just knew it wasn’t eczema. The doctor reminded me that dermatology still had a huge wait list that he couldn’t put me forward for. I left without taking the prescription and sobbed in my car out of pure frustration. I started to feel stupid pushing for such a tiny red patch, especially whilst watching my partner’s heart tumour diagnosis, mine felt so small and trivial in comparison.

10 minutes later, an unknown number phoned and the doctor apologised for the way our appointment went. He told me he looked over my records and considering my failed efforts with steroids, he was able to ‘fast-track’ me on the 2 weeks wait for Dermatology at Poole Hospital. This was such a relief and I was so grateful.

the 1st dermatology appointment & skin cancer diagnosis

In October 2022, I went to my first dermatology appointment at the hospital. They immediately diagnosed it as basal cell carcinoma, more commonly known as BCC. It is non-melanoma, which is a group of cancers that are less serious than melanoma. They slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.

A few doctors checked it in agreement and decided cream was the best course of action. I had NO idea cream could heal skin cancer! It’s called bascellex cream and applied it 5 nights a week for 6 weeks. I was about to leave the country for two back-to-back trips to the Caribbean and Florida, so they asked me to wait to apply the cream until I returned from the hot climates, and that a delay in starting would be okay. There are several forms of treatment for skin cancer, but this is the least invasive and was so easy for me to apply.

The experience with the dermatologists was so positive. I told them about Benji and how I felt silly pushing for the appointment, but they reassured me I did the right thing. They taught me a lot about BCC and answered all my questions. I was a bit surprised hearing the C word, but ready to get it healed finally.

what caused skin cancer?

It’s caused by ultraviolet (UV) light (sunlight) damaging the DNA in skin cells. I’ve never had sun beds and I wear factor 50. I haven’t burnt my skin in a while but I do burn easily. I don’t actively sunbathe very often but I do travel to hot climates and spend lots of time outside. Even if I do sunbathe, I typically cover my face and don’t sit out for long. Therefore, I was a bit surprised it was skin cancer and I had no knowledge of the different types until now.

I do, however, have a family history of it as my Nanny has terrible skin cancer on her body, including her face. She’d had lots removed over the years. My Mum appears to be okay, but we have very different skin. I’m a lot paler with more freckles and moles, so the dermatologists told me, unfortunately, it was highly likely to happen to me.

the check-up & future

I’ve now finished the course of cream and it has healed the area nicely. It went quite scabby and gross at first but it has worked. As it was still a bit red, I asked for a follow-up appointment to get it double-checked. They confirmed yesterday (10th March 2023) that it’s looking good, but the redness might take a few months to calm down. The doctor asked me to apply Eumovate on it every day for a fortnight.

Ideally, I would like to explore having regular dermatology appointments in the future, but I may have to pay privately for those as I appreciate the NHS is already under so much pressure. I am returning in a few weeks to have a mole on my inner thigh removed, but feel extremely grateful for the ongoing care and support from Poole Hospital.

An infographic from Foundry Healthcare in partnership with Sunsense on how to avoid sun-damaged skin with information about skin cancer
Skin Cancer Infographic via Foundry Healthcare (source)

The whole experience has certainly been a learning process, but the biggest has been the importance of my SPF and being proactive in getting things checked. If you’d like to chat with me more about my experience, be sure to DM me on Instagram.

To find out more about BCC skin cancer and get further support, please visit the British Association of Dermatologists here or the NHS website here.

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