A landscape gardener who spent eight hours a day working outdoors and ‘never worried about using sunscreen’ has warned others to be sun-warned after waking up to find a lump the size of a tennis ball under his arm that turned out to be a cancerous tumor.
Shane McCormick, 47, who now works as a landscaping business manager, was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2017 after a mole was removed, but thought he was in clear until, two years later, it suddenly returned, spreading to his lymph nodes. .
Undergoing surgery and immunotherapy, he now raises awareness of the dangers of working outdoors without sun protection.
Shane, who lives in Southampton with his hairdresser wife, Denise, 50, and their two children, teacher Jack, 24, and building merchant worker Molly, 20, said: ‘I was a landscape gardener for 13 years and I never worried about using sunscreen or staying in the shade.
“I wore a t-shirt and shorts most days and if it was hot my top would come off. I think most industries that work outdoors are like that.
“I guess looking back, I was unaware of the possibilities and consequences of being in the sun all day every day.”
But it was in April 2017 that Shane visited the doctor after discovering a new mole on his back.
He said: ‘I had changed roles about eight years before, but the damage of 13 years of working outdoors without sun protection had already been done.
“I had a mole on my back and a freckle appeared on my face and to be honest I was more concerned about my appearance than thinking it was something serious.”
Sun spots can be harmless, but marks that enlarge, change shape, change colour, itch, bleed or develop a crusty surface should be checked by a GP.
He added: “So when I went to the doctor it was to see if he could remove the freckle on my face.”
But once there, Shane’s GP became concerned about the mole on his back.
Shane said: ‘I was referred to Winchester Hospital where I had the mole removed during a biopsy.
“It was just before the May 2017 bank holiday weekend when I was asked to come and collect my results.”
Shane and Denise were due to leave for the weekend and stopped at the hospital en route to Woolacombe to hear the news.
Shane said: “I really didn’t expect it to be anything serious. We didn’t even tell the kids about it because we thought it would be nothing.
“But when we arrived, a doctor took us to a private room and explained to us that I had skin cancer. I was so shocked. It was a lot to digest. »
When further tests revealed the cancer had been removed during the biopsy, Shane says he breathed a sigh of relief.
He said: “Afterwards I went to a dermatologist and the first look at my back they said ‘wow, you’ve seen a lot of sun’.
“It was embarrassing for me because I didn’t realize it would be so obvious. That’s when I realized my skin was quite damaged.
He added: “It was a reminder for me to protect my skin from the sun and immediately after my diagnosis I started wearing sunscreen regularly.
“Everything was so simple and I didn’t need any other treatments, so I felt like I was lucky.
“I had two years after that to think everything was fine.”
But in November 2019, Shane says he woke up one morning to find a lump under his right arm.
He said: “I remember I had a busy weekend meeting clients in London on the Friday and then watching the rugby on the Saturday.
“Sunday morning I awoke to find that a lump the size of a tennis ball had apparently appeared overnight under my arm.
He added: “I think I was in denial as I rejected it and even went to work the next day. But I couldn’t shake off that annoying thought so I left work. and went straight to Southampton General Hospital.
At the hospital, Shane underwent tests and was asked to return when the results were ready.
He said, “It was December 23 when they asked me to come back.”
He added: “My wife and I were sitting nervously in the waiting room when they called my name. They said the lump was a tumor and the cancer had come back. It had spread to my lymph nodes. .
“The world has just collapsed around me. One minute I thought everything was fine and wonderful, the next minute I find out the cancer had spread and I would need an operation.
Shane’s operation to remove the cancerous lump was scheduled for the first week of January 2020.
He said: “To say it was a difficult Christmas is an understatement. I just wanted to complete the operation and be done with it.
“During the operation, they also removed 24 lymph nodes as well as the tumor.”
But Shane says the results of the procedure were positive.
He said: “I feel very lucky. Everything went well after the operation and once recovered I had immunotherapy in March 2020.
“Since then I’ve had the green light, which was just amazing.”
Shane now wears a lymphedema sleeve on his right arm where his lymph nodes were removed, which puts pressure on his limb to keep the lymph flowing, and he cannot sit in the sun.
He said: “I have to be very careful. During the recent heat waves, I wore long-sleeved tops, sat under umbrellas, and covered myself in SPF 50 sunscreen.
“The days of working topless in the garden are long gone.”
A nationwide survey by Melanoma UK and building trader Jewson has found that up to 60% of UK tradespeople working outside do not check their skin for signs of cancer, despite the increased risk.
The new study, which surveyed more than 2,000 tradespeople in the UK, also found that more than 30% of construction workers do not use sun protection on the building site.
Jewson has now launched its ‘Hard Hat Your Skin’ campaign, which sees them stocking sunscreen in all their branches.
Shane hopes to raise awareness of the risk of skin cancer for outdoor workers, saying: “Twenty years ago there wasn’t much talk about skin cancer on the job site and personally I wasn’t interested. to have conversations about the dangers of the sun. exposure.”
He added: “I hope that changes, traders need to take these risks seriously.
“Sunscreen should be among the essential PPE for builders and outdoor craftsmen.
“I want people to be aware of the signs to look out for so other people don’t face the same diagnosis as me.”