PORT Elizabeth skin cancer survivor Jenni Gault is celebrating a new lease on life with a VIP invite to attend New York Bridal Week.
With the expos one of the world’s largest for wedding-related industries, the invitation is a feather in the cap of the Jenni Collections jewellery designer.
“It’s a lovely way to start off cancer awareness month,” she said of the expo, which runs from October 13. Unfortunately, due to illness in the family she is not able to take up the offer.
However, October is the time of year when Gault says “thank you” for her own health as she was diagnosed with skin cancer nine years ago. Left untreated, skin cancer can kill.
Although Gault caught her cancer in the early stages, her skin has been marked by the disease and she often wears make-up to mask the scars.
“When I see kids look at me I tell them yes, it is scary and it looks horrible and it is because I did not wear a hat.”
The fair-skinned, blue-eyed blonde knows a lot of the damage to her skin came from overexposure as a child, and her active outdoor lifestyle as a young adult also contributed. Skin cancer can attack dark or fair skin.
“I used to do a lot of long-distance cycling and I did the IronMan triathlon in 1996 and 1997,” said Gault, who was one of only 15 women in the field of 312 entrants.
She remembers using suncream “but not a lot” for the 2.8km swim, 181km cycle and marathon run.
“We would put on factor 8 or 9 at the beginning of a five-hour training session and not reapply even though we had been swimming,” she recalled.
Today, when she watches teenage girls broil on the beach she thinks of her own teen years when she and a friend would lie in the sun to “catch” a tan.
“We would put baby oil on and think it was making us brown faster but now I look at these girls and want to tell them it is just making them into french fries.
“They put their beautiful faces into the sun and they don’t realise the damage that they are doing.”
She only picked up that she had skin cancer when much of the damage had been done.
Fortunately, it was caught in time to treat it successfully.
“I had brown spots on my face and my dad said we needed to have them looked at.
“They took a biopsy around the areas to see if they were malignant.”
Gault’s doctor treated her successfully using a
topical cream, Efudex: “I’ve never had chemo but my dad needed it for his skin cancer.
I’ve also had spots on my arms and back burnt
off with liquid nitrogen.”
She said awareness of the danger definitely had increased.
“The most scary thing today though is to go to a playground or the beach where there are young children playing and they are never ever wearing a hat.
“You can get sun-proof vests that are fashionable and ensure the children don’t get burnt, and sun cream needs to be re-applied.”
Despite warnings by her parents in her childhood in Zimbabwe, she never took protective steps – and both her father and grandfather had suffered from skin cancer.
“When my brother and I were young we were both national swimmers and we would never use sunscreen.
“My father would tell us to wear a hat but it’s really cool to have a suntan and it’s not cool to wear a hat.
“Now he says: ‘I told you so.’
“I do think people should be made aware of the dangers.”
Take care of your skin
- EXPOSURE to the sun does not only give you wrinkles, freckles and a tan – it can give you skin cancer, and it also affects people of all skin tones, including those with darker complexions.
- Follow these safety tips, no matter what your age:
- Apply sunscreen before you go out into the sun and make sure the sun protection factor (SPF) is high enough for your skin type. Fair skins need at least 30SPF.
- Reapply sunscreen regularly (every two to three hours) and after swimming.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim. A peaked cap may shield your face but your neck and ears are often still exposed.
- Avoid tanning beds.
- Avoid the sun between 11am and 2pm.
- Check your skin regularly and note any changes or new growths.
- More than three-quarters of your total sun exposure is acquired before you turn 18 so parents need to take care of their children’s skin. Smaller children can – and should – wear UV protective sunsuits for swimming.
- Wear sunglasses that offer UV protection.