09 March 2018
Skin cancer is the most preventable of all common cancers, with almost all cases being caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. After seeing first-hand how much damage the sun can do to our skin over the years, 77-year-old Ellen Fritz from Gawler East wants more people to learn from her mistakes via increased funding for awareness campaigns.
“The thing I wish people had told me is that skin cancer is preventable and you should be protecting your skin.
When I was younger, there was no such thing as skin cancer. Nobody told us about being SunSmart, and in fact we did the opposite. We all put oil on our skin to get brown and made sure that we had a nice tan—you looked your best if you had tanned skin. We had no idea that what we were doing was so dangerous, and even deadly.
I was a registered nurse and worked in plastic surgery—I used to get people with cancers on their noses and on their faces, but it didn’t mean anything to me—I didn’t even think about it being related to what I did on the weekends. Now that we know so much more about the dangers, I can’t believe my eyes when I see people knowingly sunbathing, or thinking it’s funny if they get very sunburnt.
I’m 77 years old, and am now seeing the full effects of all those years of tanning. I’ve had a skin graft on my foot, skin flap on the front of my right ear and cheek, and two operations on my right lower leg to remove skin cancers. I’ve also had skin cancer on the back of my hand, my forehead and on my scalp. In total, I’ve had four skin cancers removed and many more being monitored. If you could see my back it looks hideous—it’s covered with big, brown sun related scars. It looks awful.
Damaging your skin when you’re young may dramatically increase the likelihood of you developing skin cancer later in life. It might happen suddenly, or it might sneak up on you years after your sun exposure. The best thing that you can do is adopt the Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide lifestyle from this day forward, and regularly check your skin for any changes that might indicate an early skin cancer.
I think it will take time for people to understand the real damage that the sun can have on your skin. We’ve done a good job educating the little kids. My grandkids are always wearing a hat to school. It’s ingrained in the really young generations, but there’s still so much more work to be done with other age groups. I see 18 and 19 year olds on the beach without sun protection and want to tell them what I’ve been through and maybe that would change how they feel about a tan.
You don’t want skin cancer in your life, take it from me. It’s avoidable and most people know how to avoid it, it’s just a matter of taking the next step and implementing what we know on a day-to-day basis.
Education and awareness is key, and that can only happen on a grand scale through effective campaigns. Funding this kind of multi-media marketing is one thing we can ask our government to do to bring about widespread benefit for so many people, and our public health system.”
Cancer Council SA is recommending that the next State Government commit to funding a $400,000 per annum SunSmart social marketing campaign as one of its nine Election Priorities, helping to change community attitudes towards sun protection and prevent skin cancer in South Australia.