Natalie Calway, 43, feels like a ‘ticking time bomb’ after being diagnosed with skin cancer (Picture: Caters News)
A former tanning addict is calling for a ban on ‘death machine’ solariums as she battles stage four skin cancer.
Like her friends, Natalie Calway, from Hemel Hempstead, was desperate for a tan in her 20s, so used sunbeds and did not apply enough SPF.
When the 43-year-old found a brown mark behind her ear, her partner thought it was hair dye, but it eventually led to her diagnosis.
Her life came crashing down when she was diagnosed with stage three melanoma in 2018, which progressed to stage four in 2020.
‘I didn’t know anything about skin cancer when I was in my twenties,’ the former paramedic said. ‘I just wanted to have a great tan like the rest of my friends.
‘I’m fairly pale and my skin doesn’t tan very well, so I went on sunbeds and wasn’t careful when I was in the sun.
‘I had no idea that I was risking getting melanoma and that getting sunburnt just once or using a sun bed once significantly increases those risks.
She was diagnosed with stage three melanoma in 2018, which progressed to stage four in 2020 (Picture: Natalie Calway / Caters News)
Natalie underwent a skin graft, a radical neck dissection and had 59 lymph nodes removed (Picture: Natalie Calway / Caters News)
‘I had a mark on my skin behind my ear. I couldn’t even see it was there and my ex-partner assumed that it was hair dye that had stained my skin.’
After Natalie had the mark removed, it came back positive for melanoma.
All she could think about was that she ‘was going to be dead within a week’ and that her children Henry, 11, and Joseph, seven, would grow up without a mum.
‘Hearing those words was terrifying, I was in shock and began to panic,’ she recalled. ‘It felt like my world came crashing down at that moment.’
As part of the treatment, Natalie underwent a skin graft, a radical neck dissection and had 59 lymph nodes removed.
Natalie with her children at an event for their local hospice (Picture: Natalie Calway / Caters News)
When 13 of them came back positive, she was referred to an oncologist and began 12 months of targeted therapy which consisted of taking tablets at home twice a day.
After finishing this treatment in 2019, the mum went for a CT scan in 2020, which uncovered she had further nodules on her left lung.
The tumours were removed and tested, and doctors told Natalie they came back positive for melanoma again.
She is now undergoing an immunotherapy treatment and waiting for a scan.
‘Life has been such a struggle,’ she said, reflecting on the last three years. ‘I am always tired and suffering from migraines. I am not living life as I should.
The former paramedic has been forced to retire while undergoing her cancer treatments (Picture: Natalie Calway /Caters News)
‘I am constantly worried about the kids. When I am with them, I can keep myself busy. We do lots together and go on adventures.
‘But when I am by myself, my mind wanders. I wasn’t aware of the dangers that come with sun exposure, and I am now very much aware of what it can do to you.
‘I don’t think there is enough information out there and people don’t seem to take it seriously enough.’
Natalie is now extra vigilant when it comes to her own family. Her children are not allowed to go out in the midday sun and they always wear UV rash tops, hats, and sun cream, which is regularly reapplied throughout the day.
As a result of her diagnosis, she wants to raise awareness of the dangers of sun beds.
There have been calls for solariums – dubbed ‘death machines’ by one MP – to be banned in the UK after the World Health Organisation classed them as carcinogenic.
Natalie’s story is being revealed just weeks after research published in the British Journal of Dermatology suggested that a ban could save hundreds of lives from skin cancer.
‘I think that sun beds should be banned,’ she said. ‘It comes down to personal choice but not everyone is educated enough to make an informed decision and knows the real dangers that come with using them.
‘My mark was behind my ear, so I don’t even know what it started as but I think it is important to get someone to check the back of your head so that nothing is missed.’
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