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  • Shirley’s skin cancer message

    18 February 2020

    Shirley McDermott is the first one to admit that growing up, sun protection wasn’t really on her radar. Now at 73 years of age, she is paying for her years spent in the sun with a staggering 34 Basal Cell Carcinoma’s, one squamous cell carcinoma and one melanoma removed.  She shares a bit about her story and why she is now passionate about educating younger generations on the damage the sun can do. 

    I’ve always had very fair skin and in my younger years, fair hair with a touch of red. It’s fair to say, I’m was not built for the harsh Australian sun. 

    Growing up in the 1950s our parents knew nothing about sun protection. We played outside for hours on end, sun-baked at the beach and rarely applied sunscreen. We were completely unaware of the risks we were taking and the damage we were doing to our skin.

    In my early 40s I started noticing spots on my skin that didn’t seem quite right. I didn’t know what they were and neither did my GP. He referred me to a skin specialist who identified and removed my first skin cancer. Thirty plus years later and I’ve had 36 cancers removed in total, one of which was a melanoma. 

    Since then I get regular check ups to make sure that I stay on top of any changes to my skin. I know how prone I am to skin cancer and am always on the look out for spots or bumps that don’t seem quite right. Luckily, all of my cancers were in situ, so were removed without any further treatment—but I know that not everyone is that fortunate. 

    Sun protection and education has changed so much since I was young. I am now a proud grandmother to two grandchildren, aged 11 and 9, and when I look at what they know today versus what I knew in my younger years, it’s worlds apart. They are both so aware of the sun, wear hats and sunscreen and attend a SunSmart school. It makes me incredibly proud to see, and I know that they won’t repeat the same mistakes I did when I was their age. 

    But despite all the information out there, I still see people making the same mistakes I made over 50 years ago. 

    What particularly horrifies me is watching the news and seeing hundreds of people at the beach, many sun tanning and small children running around unprotected in the middle of the day. Skin cancer is almost entirely preventable if we look after ourselves—so why wouldn’t you? 

    Wearing a hat or putting on sunscreen before you head out can make a huge difference in later life. I have the blisters and scars to prove it. 

    My message to all South Australians is be SunSmart and protect your skin—it could literally save your life. 


    Did you know… the sun can see through your skin to the cells beneath the surface and do damage to your skin’s DNA? And that damage doesn’t always repair… it can just keep building up and up, until one day… it causes skin cancer. So, don’t let the sun see your DNA.

    UV can’t be seen or felt, so always check the UV level and if it’s 3 and above, protect your skin in five ways and slip, slop, slap, seek and slide. 

    Find out more at www.cancersa.org.au/dont-let-the-sun-see-your-dna

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