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Luna Bronze founder got skin cancer at 27

Young businesswoman is given a shock cancer diagnosis at just 27 after noticing a ‘rough patch’ of skin on her jaw – as she shares the symptom doctors dismissed

  • Maddy Balderson was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma at the age of 27
  • Growing up on the Mornington Peninsula the now 35-year-old loved to sun tan
  • It wasn’t until doctors removed the legion that Maddy took sun safety seriously
  • She now co-owns a self tan company with her friend and wears SPF50+ 

A young Australian woman who spent her teenage years wearing tanning oil and basking in the sun was shocked to discover that a rough, pink coloured patch on her jawline was skin cancer – and her GP dismissed it twice.

Maddy Balderson, the co-founder of Luna Bronze, was just 27 when she noticed a small patch on her face that started to bleed onto her pillow overnight.

Twice she mentioned it to her doctor who brushed it off as dermatitis before her eagle-eyed facialist pointed out that it might be worth seeing a dermatologist.

Ms Balderson was later diagnosed with infiltrating basal cell carcinoma, a condition her surgeons said they normally see in Australians over 50, and had a large section of the skin around her jaw cut out.

Swearing off sunbaking forever after the horrifying incident the now 35-year-old partly owns a successful self tan business the likes of Hillary Duff and Whitney Port use.

Maddy Balderson, the co-founder of Luna Bronze, was just 27 when she noticed a small patch on her face that started to bleed onto her pillow overnight

Swearing off sunbaking forever after the horrifying incident the now 35-year-old partly owns a successful self tan business the likes of Hillary Duff and Whitney Port use (pictured before the skin cancer was found)

Swearing off sunbaking forever after the horrifying incident the now 35-year-old partly owns a successful self tan business the likes of Hillary Duff and Whitney Port use (pictured before the skin cancer was found)

‘For over a year I’d had a small rough, pinkish coloured patch on my jaw line which I thought nothing of. It wasn’t until I started waking up to blood on my face or pillow that I mentioned it to a GP who dismissed it as dermatitis,’ Ms Balderson, who lives on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, told FEMAIL.

‘It wasn’t until I visited my facialist that everything clicked. She told me that she had seen the exact type of condition before and made me promise to visit a dermatologist as soon as possible. 

‘A client of hers had recently lost a part of her nose from the same thing. From there, it all happened very quickly and I was diagnosed as an infiltrating basal cell carcinoma (or BCC) the very next week.’

While initially Ms Balderson was just glad she hadn’t been diagnosed with the more sinister melanoma cancer, and thought doctors would simply burn off the lesion, things turned out to be far more serious.

‘When I met with the plastic surgeon I was informed about what was required to remove my BCC and I realised then that it wasn’t going to be that simple,’ she said.

While initially Ms Balderson was just glad she hadn't been diagnosed with the more sinister melanoma cancer, and thought doctors would simply burn off the lesion, things turned out to be far more serious

While initially Ms Balderson was just glad she hadn’t been diagnosed with the more sinister melanoma cancer, and thought doctors would simply burn off the lesion, things turned out to be far more serious

Melanoma: The most dangerous form of skin cancer

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It happens after the DNA in skin cells is damaged (typically due to harmful UV rays) and then not repaired so it triggers mutations that can form malignant tumours.  

Causes

  • Sun exposure: UV and UVB rays from the sun and tanning beds are harmful to the skin
  • Moles: The more moles you have, the greater the risk for getting melanoma 
  • Skin type: Fairer skin has a higher risk for getting melanoma
  • Hair colour: Red heads are more at risk than others
  • Personal history: If you’ve had melanoma once, then you are more likely to get it again
  • Family history: If previous relatives have been diagnosed, then that increases your risk

Treatment 

This can be done by removing the entire section of the tumor or by the surgeon removing the skin layer by layer. When a surgeon removes it layer by layer, this helps them figure out exactly where the cancer stops so they don’t have to remove more skin than is necessary. 

The patient can decide to use a skin graft if the surgery has left behind discoloration or an indent. 

  • Immunotherapy, radiation treatment or chemotherapy: 

This is needed if the cancer reaches stage III or IV. That means that the cancerous cells have spread to the lymph nodes or other organs in the body. 

Prevention

  • Use sunscreen and do not burn
  • Avoid tanning outside and in beds 
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside
  • Keep newborns out of the sun
  • Examine your skin every month
  • See your physician every year for a skin exam 

 Source: Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Society

‘I underwent Mohs surgery and was left with a large scar on my jawline due to the amount of tissue they’d had to remove to ensure they removed all of the cancer.

‘Even then it wasn’t until I met with the doctors at the Melanoma Institute of Australia that I learned just how serious my BCC was due to its invasiveness and how close it was to my lymphatic system. 

‘That was the moment that it clicked for me. I was faced with the possibility of radiation treatment if the cancer had spread, which was very confronting to hear at such a young age.’

Ms Balderson, who grew up on the Mornington Peninsula, said the experience saw her turn to SPF50+ sunscreen and fake tan, instead of basking in the sun. 

Luna Bronze now has 13 products and is stocked in Mecca, Revolve and Free People

Luna Bronze now has 13 products and is stocked in Mecca, Revolve and Free People

What are the warning signs of melanoma?

The first five letters of the alphabet are a guide to help you recognise the warning signs of melanoma.

A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.

B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.

C is for Colour. Multiple colours are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colours red, white or blue may also appear.

D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm, or ¼ inch in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. Rare, amelanotic melanomas are colourless.

E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, colour or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

Source: Skincancer.org 

‘After my experience I vowed to stop sunbaking but I still enjoyed the little added confidence that a tan gave me and sun tanning was no longer an option,’ she said.

‘My best friend Rhi and I started Luna Bronze after we couldn’t find a hydrating and natural looking self tanner that incorporated skin loving ingredients.’

Luna Bronze now has 13 products and is stocked in Mecca, Revolve and Free People. 

‘My advice to young people would be to take sun safety seriously as skin cancer can (and most likely will) happen to anyone at any age, and can be disfiguring or even fatal,’ she said.

‘Australia has the highest incidence rate of skin cancer in the world – two in three people will be diagnosed by the time they’re 70.

‘There are so many great SPFs and sunless tans in the market and Australia makes the best of them, so when there are so many great protective measures and alternatives to sunbaking – why would you risk it?’

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