WHEN Jeska Forsyth noticed a mark on her upper forehead, she assumed it was nothing but an acne spot that would disappear in a few days.
And given the musician, 35, had always been fit and healthy, the last thing to cross her mind was that she could have skin cancer.
However, after putting off seeing the doctor, Jeska was eventually diagnosed with the disease and was forced to undergo urgent surgery as well as gruelling chemotherapy treatment.
Soon the spot disappeared and medics told the mum-of-one she needed to go in for a check-up every six months to check on her health.
However, that wasn’t the end of Jeska’s nightmare ordeal.
Her skin cancer went on to return another two times following this – meaning she had to go through more agonising treatment.
Jeska, from Austin, Texas, USA, is now sharing her story to raise awareness for skin cancer and to urge other people to watch their skin closely.
She said: “I want to convey a message of hope; a message that says if you are diligent and watch your skin closely you can get in early at the first signs of something unusual.”
Jeska’s ordeal begun in 2008 when she noticed a mark on her upper forehead.
“When I was twenty-four years old I noticed a mark on my upper forehead and proceeded to watch it for the next two years,” said Jeska.
“The spot wasn’t much larger than my tiny fingernail, but I noticed that it would go through cycles.
“It was appearing like acne, then it would get crusty and eventually it would turn into a scab and fall off only to reappear a few days or weeks later; it just never healed and went away.”
As the spot failed to disappear, it dawned on Jeska that it could be cancer and – fearing this was true – she chose not to book a doctor’s appointment.
It just never healed and went awayJeska Forsyth
Despite this, her mum grew increasingly concerned and booked Jeska an appointment in 2014 – insisting she would pay for any treatment as Jeska didn’t have health insurance.
In October of that year, Jeska was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, also known as rodent ulcer, which is one of the two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer.
She had to undergo surgery where they would remove the spot and sew up the wound, as well as a month-long topical chemotherapy treatment; she had to apply the chemo two times a day to her face.
“Honestly I really did wait a little too long to be seen for that first suspicious mark and kept putting it off out of complete fear that it would be what I thought it was – cancer”, she said.
“Eventually my mother told me that I had to go to the dermatologist, and she offered to not only pay for the appointment but also she accompanied me.
“At this point in my life, I was a new mother of a then four-year-old little girl and that’s what gave me the motivation to be seen as I wanted to stick around to see her grow up.
“The dermatologist told me that I would need to schedule a day procedure that could be done right there in her office, so I did, then the waiting game started.
“Waiting for that first appointment to have something removed was insanely scary and I remember walking into the office and finding it surreal.
“The removal of the basal cell carcinoma went really well; I remember the weird sensation of having my forehead cut on and the weird sound it made when the doctor was cutting it off.
“But I moved on with check-ups twice a year.”
I realized I would be checking and treating skin cancer my entire life Jeska Forsyth
However, just a year after her first diagnosis, in February 2015, Jeska noticed another spot that would not go away and immediately went to the doctors.
They did their annual full body check and she was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, another type of non-melanoma skin cancer.
This piece of news did not come as such a shock to her, as she had a little bit of experience with it.
She had a biopsy where her spot was cut off as well as a few other spots on her face which were frozen off.
She was told that she had to undergo another round of topical chemo.
Jeska said: “When I got my next diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma it was scary because it had only been a year since the first one and I think it was then that I realised I would be checking and treating skin cancer my entire life.”
Ever since, she continued her diligence when it came to checking her skin.
A couple of years passed without any more signs of spots until December 2017 when she found a small pink spot on her right shoulder while she was doing a self-body scan.
It was very small but due to her careful monitoring, she managed to spot it early.
She mentioned it to her boyfriend who panicked due to her history of skin cancer and demanded that she made an appointment.
Her dermatologist wasn’t worried as she didn’t think it looked threatening or scary, but Jeska requested they did a biopsy anyway.
A week later they called her and told her that she had skin cancer again, this time it was amelanotic nodular melanoma, a rare cancer of the skin which accounts for five out of 100 melanoma cases.
This type of melanoma has a 65 per cent reoccurrence rate.
“Being diagnosed the third time with skin cancer was the scariest, ‘life flashes before your eyes’ moment because I had requested the biopsy after being told it didn’t look threatening or scary but we decided to biopsy it anyway thinking it wasn’t anything,” Jeska said.
“I remember going completely numb while listening to the doctor over the phone and really couldn’t collect any more of the information she was giving me after the initial disclosure of melanoma and that I needed to seek help as soon as possible.”
Jeska was urged to visit the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre where she would get the area treated, however, due to the fact that she had no insurance, she couldn’t afford the surgery which would have cost her £15,300 to £19,200.
She applied and got insurance from Obamacare but this wasn’t accepted by the hospital, so feeling hopeless, she did her research and she was finally connected to a teaching hospital in San Antonio, Texas, who not only accepted her insurance but she could afford the surgery.
Signs of melanoma
The most common sign of melanoma is a new mole or a change in an existing mole.
In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour.
The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.
Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.
The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:
- Asymmetrical – melanomas have 2 very different halves and are an irregular shape
- Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
- Colours – melanomas will be a mix of 2 or more colours
- Diameter – most melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter
- Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma
“The surgery was successful, and they were able to remove the cancer successfully and I received my stage one diagnosis I will carry with me for ten years,” Jeska said.
After kicking skin cancer for the third time, Jeska, who is from San Angelo, USA, decided to move to Texas to pursue her dream of being a singer and musician.
She now takes every precaution possible, such as; wearing hats, long-sleeve shirts, sun cream and doing self-scans at home.
She now wants to raise awareness of skin cancer and the importance of taking care of your skin.
“Don’t wait as long as I did to go in and get checked – that was so silly of me,” she said.
In particular, Jeska is urging people to take care of their skin in the sun – as she believes being suburnt as a child could have been a contributing factor to her receiving these diagnoses.
“I remember being burned several times as a child by the sun and I know that sunscreen was not such a big deal when I was a child,” Jeska said.
“I remember my grandmother putting sunscreen on me once only to find out that she had accidentally used a tanning lotion and I got a seriously bad sunburn that time.
“I also remember being burned so badly that I had to lay on couch cushions in the living room with aloe vera all over me under a sheet and how humiliated I felt going to junior high without a bra on because the bra wire hurt too bad over my sunburn.
“I know my mum took extra precaution putting sunscreen on us all but if you have three sunburns in your lifetime that make you peel, you will experience some sort of skin cancer, or so I have heard.
“I post and try to bring awareness all the time because I didn’t know the type of melanoma, I received was even a thing.
“I always thought it was dark and changed shape and grew quickly and I feel like I knew a lot about skin cancer at that point and felt blind sighted by an enemy I didn’t even knew existed.”