A former model has warned people about the danger of sunburn after skin cancer has left her scarred for life.
Samantha Stratton Sims, 50, from Cirencester, Gloucestershire, UK, was a successful fashion model from the mid 80s through to the early 2000s.
During her modelling days, Samantha worked in hot countries often at the hottest times of the day – and with fair skin and red hair, Samantha would often ‘grab a few rays’ when she was younger.
Samantha admits that she wasn’t as careful in the sun as she could have been about sun protection – and in 2018 was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma (BCC) a type of non-melanoma skin cancer on her upper left temple.
She had the cancer removed through Mohs surgery – a surgical technique used to remove affected skin cells without causing too much damage to the surrounding healthy tissue.
But the damage her skin has sustained over the years means that it is likely that she will continue to receive BCC diagnoses throughout her life.
On April 6, 2020, Samantha underwent Mohs surgery on her forehead to remove another BCC and she was left with a two-inch scar – but has been recovering well from this.
She will start using a special chemotherapy cream on her skin from the autumn to hopefully prevent further surgery.
Since her skin cancer diagnoses, Samantha takes great care of her skin, wears high SPF sun cream every day and routinely wears a hat and scarf when she is out and about always avoiding the hottest parts of the day where she can.
Now, Samantha hopes to be an advocate for skin cancer awareness and to provide hope that there are effective skin cancer treatments out there for people.
Samantha hopes that women and men alike will take heed of her advice and not be fooled by the false Instagram idea of tanned perfection which could jeopardise people’s health.
“My career as a fashion model meant that I travelled extensively and in the mid 1980s, through the 1990s and into the early 2000s, I was often working in hot countries and being photographed directly in sunlight through the hottest parts of the day,” Samantha said.
“Pale skin wasn’t deemed particularly attractive and so on occasion, even as a young teenager, I would ‘grab a few rays’ and my freckles would come out and I would appear more ‘healthy.’ The irony is not lost on me now.
“I remember burning myself very badly in Italy one summer. I was on a boat and I remember it being overcast and thinking nothing of it. In fact, I got second degree burns on my legs and had to have them bandaged from my knees to my ankles. My legs swelled to twice their size and the blisters and sores were excruciating.
“Again, in the Seychelles in the early 2000s, I was just sitting on the beach in overcast weather and burned very badly.
“I just didn’t take the time to consider wearing longer dresses/trousers to cover up.
“There were lots of times that I wish I had been more sensible in the sun. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it.
“Apart from when I was a very young teenager, I never sunbathed or deliberately burnt myself, I just wasn’t as careful as I could have been and it makes me feel stupid actually.
“I feel I should have taken the sun much more seriously. Red hair? Blue eyes? It’s asking for trouble really.
“Before my skin cancer diagnosis, I used to just moisturise and then put my make up on.
“If I was working abroad as a digital operator, I would always put lots of sunscreen on, then apply my make up but I would very rarely use sunscreen in the UK.
“Now, I’m very strict about using sunscreen, whether abroad or in the UK. The sun is damaging wherever you are.
“I also routinely wear a hat and a scarf, something I would never have done before.
“I also try and stay out of the sun in the hottest parts of the day but sometimes, due to work it just isn’t possible so covering up is the only option.
“I now have one or two scars on my face, so far I’ve been lucky that they are at the side of my face and on my forehead – where I now have a fringe to cover it.
“Having the scars reminds me not to go out into the sun without sunscreen and a hat.
“The recovery time is very fast these days. Modern medicine and new treatments mean that surgery isn’t as daunting as it once was.”
Whilst Samantha is thankful that her cancer is not melanoma, she is only too aware of the devastation cancer can cause as she has lost loved ones from the disease.
Samantha’s husband Rhody has been there for her throughout her journey but she hopes that by sharing her journey, she will be able to prevent others from going out into the sun without protection.
“I would say try not to worry. It sounds strange, but stress and worry can cause untold damage to your health,” she said.
“A cancer diagnosis doesn’t always have to be foreboding. A lot of skin cancers are treatable. There are modern medicines and science which can help us like never before.
“Of course, all the treatments have their down sides, including some pain and discomfort but they are worth having.
“Be sure to try and find a good doctor or specialist. Ask around, do some homework. How you are treated, cared for, spoken to makes all the difference.
“The main message I want to convey is that if you are fair skinned, have freckles, light coloured eyes, red hair or fair hair then there is the probability that your skin is not going to like the sun very much.
“I know it’s fashionable to be tanned, but there are some great fake tan products out there now which really are a much better alternative.
“Do not go on a sun bed. This is madness. I count my lucky stars that I never used a sun bed but whether that was luck or judgement I don’t know. Sun beds should be banned.
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“Use sunscreen always. Use it like you use a moisturiser. Apply it every morning before makeup or on its own. It can be a lifesaver.
“Do not go out in the hottest part of the day unless absolutely necessary. If so, wear a hat, cover your neck with a scarf, remember the backs of your hands. They burn too.
“I want to make people aware of the dangers of the sun. It kills. We are so used to looking at beautiful beach babes with their golden tans, relaxing on the beach that we think this is the norm.
“It isn’t. It’s an Instagram life. It’s not real. You mustn’t be dying for a tan. Pale can be interesting.
“We need to change this perception that having a tan and showing off every square millimetre of our bodies is normal.”