Tragic Wigan mum’s dying wish is for a ban on sun beds
“I am going to die because of my addiction and my use of sun beds. I am literally dying for a tan.”
That is the heartbreaking reality for Winstanley mum Anthea Smith.
She is 45 years old, has a husband and two sons, and everything to live for.
But tragically she knows it is “highly unlikely” she will celebrate her 50th birthday or see her sons become husbands and fathers.
For Anthea has melanoma - skin cancer - which has spread throughout her body and her condition is terminal.
It developed after she used sun beds for years, starting when she was just 14.
“But I am not going to be able to do those things. They are going to be taken from me because I liked being brown.”
Every day is now a struggle for Anthea, who was first diagnosed with melanoma in July 2015.
She had a tiny, pea-sized lump in her left ear for around five years and after several doctors appointments and tests, it was found to be malignant melanoma.
Surgery was carried out in August 2015 to remove her left ear and tragus, but the cancer had spread and another operation was needed that November to remove her inner ear, middle ear, temporal bone, lymph nodes and saliva glands.
After the operations and 32 rounds of radiotherapy, Anthea was deaf on her left side, with tinnitus, no sense of taste or sense of touch on her left-hand side and mild facial palsy.
But she was alive and looking forward to reaching five years without active disease in February this year.
But in September 2020, a scan revealed that a pain in her ribs was actually a tumour on her right lung.
Tests showed the melanoma had spread to her lung, heart and brain.
She became unwell in January, waking up one morning to find she could not use her right leg or remember simple things like her own name.
She had a hospital appointment arranged for a few days later, so decided to rest up until then.
The oncologist phoned before the appointment, saying she could not drive there as mets had been found on her brain.
And tests at the hospital revealed she had tumours in two areas of her spine, on her brain and in her bowel.
She said: “It was surreal. I knew something was serious once she told me about the brain mets, but I thought that was going to be the worst news.
“I didn’t think it was going to be so extensive and there were not many places it hadn’t gone. It was scary.”
Two days later Anthea started targeted therapy - a form of table chemotherapy - to try to stop the tumours growing.
She struggled to realise what was happening, as the steroids she was given gave her “an element of euphoria” and thought everything would be okay, only coming to terms with what was happening in the last two months.
Anthea has certainly been on a “rollercoaster” over the past few months.
“I still feel a lot of pain. I have been off work since January, which is the longest I have ever been off. I’m quite weak. The treatment makes me very tired and I get breathless very easily,” she said.
She has gained weight due to the steroid treatment and being unable to exercise.
Anthea has regular appointments with a host of medical specialists, including a physiotherapist, district nurse, dietician and counsellor from the hospice.
She said: “It’s really scary but I am being really well looked after. But it is the unknown. No-one can tell me right now the things I want to know. I have asked a few times how long I have got.”
Anthea says she would like to know her life expectancy so she can make big decisions about her life, such as whether she can return to work one day.
While her condition is terminal, she knows of people who have been receiving the same treatment for three years and continue to live.
She says she is “plodding on day to day”, dealing with the “enormous” emotions that come with a terminal diagnosis.
But she is also trying to make a difference, as she campaigns for sun beds to be banned.
Anthea would love to see that happen, but knows she may not be alive if that ever becomes a reality.
In the meantime, she would like tougher legislation for the industry, including to stop tanners visiting more than one salon each day.
She hopes that by sharing her story, other people may decide to stay away from sun beds.
Anthea believes that using a sun bed and having a tan can be addictive.
She wants to highlight how serious skin cancer can be, fearing some people believe it can simply be cut out.
She said: “I know the image of me losing my ear is shocking to see. There has been some horrible trolling from people, but I think people think I have just lost an ear.
“But I am literally now waiting to hear how long I have to live. I am going to die because of my addiction and use of sun beds. I am literally dying for a tan. It’s not worth it, especially with the quality of sun tan products now.”
Information about melanoma, the symptoms and how to get support can be found at www.melanomauk.org.uk.
Thanks for reading. If you value what we do and are able to support us, a digital subscription is just £1 for your first month. Try us today by clicking here