A mother-of-two has had a ‘reality check’ after being diagnosed with skin cancer in her 30s and is urging others to be diligent about checks and sun protection.
Frances van der Velden, from Sydney, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) in late August 2020 after a ‘blind bump’ appeared along her hairline on her left temple.
‘It looked like a sweat pimple – every now and then it would feel tender but never a pimple on the head. I just thought I needed to clear my skin better,’ Frances, now 39, told FEMAIL.
He tried to scratch the ‘pesky’ bump several times, but it persisted and never healed. It wasn’t until her hairdresser and mother-in-law urged her to get the spot checked that she went to her doctor.
Frances admits she was ‘a bit naive’ when it came to sun protection in her youth and only wore sunscreen if she was going to the beach or pool.
‘I have naturally olive skin and have always tanned easily – but the risk of skin cancer never crossed my mind,’ she recalls.
When the cancer was benign the experience shook Frances to her core and served as a ‘wake up call’.
Frances van der Velden, from Sydney, was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) in late August 2020 after a ‘blind bump’ appeared in her hairline (pictured with her husband).
The mum-of-two first noticed the small lump 12 months before receiving the prognosis and said it ‘never healed’ after trying to scratch it a few times.
Image: The space that has been moved
Francis first noticed the small lump 12 months before receiving the prognosis.
She visited her regular GP with her mother, but was not concerned until the doctor described the incident as ‘strange’. A few days later, Frances was referred to a dermatologist for a biopsy.
‘I’m not someone who gets anxious easily – I’m a control freak – but it was out of my hands,’ he said.
Frances had to wait a week for the results.
During this time he found himself researching ‘every type of skin cancer under the sun’.
‘My superpower is I can fall asleep in a minute – but I haven’t slept at all that week,’ she said.
‘The worst part was not knowing if it was life-threatening at the time.’
A week later, the dermatologist confirmed the worst – she had skin cancer. But thankfully it was benign.
A BCC is the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer, often red or pale in color and appearing lumpy.
The most serious form is melanoma and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
What are the types and symptoms of skin cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer: melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
Melanoma: The most serious form of skin cancer and if left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in color, size, or shape.
Basal cell carcinoma: The most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer. Appears as a red, pale or pearly, lumpy or dry, scaly area. Grows slowly, usually in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun.
Squamous cell carcinoma: A thick, red fibrous lesion that may bleed, crust, or ulcerate easily. Grows over a few months, usually in sun-exposed areas. It is more likely to occur in people over the age of 50
Following the prognosis, Frances had to wait another two to three weeks for a plastic surgeon to remove the BCC.
‘I wanted to cut it off as soon as possible, but the doctors suggested seeing a plastic surgeon as it was on my face. It is quite a long process. It makes you wait so anxiously,’ she said.
‘I had to live those weeks with it on my skin even when I wanted it gone.’
It was successfully removed later in September and no further treatment was required.
In her teenage years, Frances went to the beach and played outdoor sports – including water polo, AFL and touch football – although staying safe from the sun was low on her priority list.
‘We never talked about the importance of sunscreen – plus I didn’t like the feel of it and its stickiness,’ she said.
‘I used to wear sunscreen sometimes and put it specifically on the moles I had at the time.
Growing up in the ’80s I vividly remember the ‘Slip Slop Slap’ campaign but it had almost the opposite effect for me. In my mind this means sunscreen is only used at the beach or pool.’
‘I’m not someone who gets anxious easily – I’m a control freak – but it was out of my hands,’ he said
In her teenage years, Frances went to the beach and played outdoor sports – including water polo, AFL and touch football – although staying safe from the sun was low on her priority list. Now she makes sure to wear SPF every day
Now she’s on a mission to warn others about the importance of sun protection, and is a little worried that the cancer will return.
‘It plays on my mind whether it will come back because the damage happened years ago when I was in my teens and early 20s,’ she says.
The life-changing ordeal led Frances to start her own SPF brand, Airyday, which offers a range of sunscreen options for different skin types.
‘I went down a rabbit hole looking for sunscreen that suited my skin and I ended up buying about 40 different products from all over the world. Yet I couldn’t find anything that ticked all the boxes for me,’ she said.
It was through this process that he noticed a gap in the market and wanted to create a sunscreen formula suitable for the different skin types that can struggle with the Aussie sun.
‘I came up with an idea for a product that would be bigger than Ben Hur and ended up with six sunscreens and a few skincare products,’ she said.
Frances became ‘obsessed’ with the business idea and spent much of her spare time researching, then eventually began producing product samples.
The brand was officially launched on September 7, 2022 and 50,000 orders were placed in the first year alone.
The life-changing ordeal led Frances to start her own SPF brand, Airyday, which offers a range of sunscreen options to suit different skin types.
Now Airyday offers customers four different SPF products to choose from – Clear as Day, Golden Glow, Mineral Mousse and Pretty in Zinc.
The products are designed to be used as skin care – daily and suitable depending on your skin type.
Frances said that sometimes she would need a ‘calmer’ SPF of her own as her skin changes with the months or seasons – what she calls an ‘SPF wardrobe’.
In March 2023 the ‘Golden Glow’ sunscreen had a strong waiting list of over 5,000 people.