Pregnant mum's shock skin cancer diagnosis: I thought I was going to die

Skin cancer cases have hit a record high - linked to trends in tanning and cheap package holidays.

A mum diagnosed with skin cancer while expecting her first child is urging Scots to enjoy the sun safely this summer.

It comes as skin cancer cases reach a record high – linked to trends in tanning and cheap package holidays.

Andrea Lambrou was 36 weeks pregnant with her son Leo in July 2020, when doctors gave her the news that she had malignant melanoma.

Scotland was in the thick of the Covid-19 pandemic when she contacted her doctor after noticing a large, dark freckle on her right leg which had grown in size.

Andrea Lambrou was 36 weeks pregnant with her son Leo when she was diagnosed.Supplied

She was referred to the dermatology department at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow where the lump was removed on the same day as the appointment.

A week later, Andrea returned to the clinic where doctors told her she had malignant melanoma.

“I’ll never forget hearing those words, not, ‘I’m sorry, you have cancer’ but what came next, ‘we have to get that baby out now’,” Andrea said.

“I had no choice. It was just as well I didn’t have a birth plan as there was no time to get my head around anything.”

‘I genuinely thought I was going to die’

Andrea Lambrou

Overnight, what had been one of the happiest times in Andrea and her husband Nicos Lambrou’s life, transformed into an anxiety filled series of hospital appointments and treatment.

Leo weighed 7lb 2oz when he was born on July 24 by c-section surgery.

Just hours later, Andrea had a CT scan followed by a MRI and a PET-CT scan. A month later, a wide area of skin across Andrea’s leg and knee area was removed and she had a lymph node biopsy which showed that the cancer had spread.

Andrea started immunotherapy treatment to help her immune system attack the cancer. But just before Christmas 2020, Andrea discovered a marble sized lump near her groin area.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” she said.

Andrea Lambrou was 36 weeks pregnant with her son Leo when she was diagnosed.Supplied

“I genuinely thought I was going to die.”

In January 2021, Andrea had a third operation to remove all the lymph nodes in her groin area. She also endured a stay in hospital that spring after developing cellulitis, an infection of the deep layers of the skin.

But by Easter 2021, Andrea finally received the news she’d been hoping for. She was clear of cancer.

“After three major surgeries in the first six months of motherhood and a year and a half of immunotherapy treatment, I showed clear scans and I continue to do so,” Andrea said.

“And the positivity just shines from our little Leo. I couldn’t have asked for a happier, funnier, more beautiful smiley wee boy.

“But there was trauma and tears when I was first given the news that I had skin cancer. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me.”

On Friday, Cancer Research UK said that melanoma skin cancer diagnoses across all age groups have reached a record high – with 17,500 people diagnosed each year in the UK.

And it’s projected to soar by around 50% over the next two decades.

Around four people in Scotland are diagnosed with melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – every day.

Andrea, who is in remission, understands the devastation of a skin cancer diagnosis.

“I hope by sharing my story, I can raise awareness about sun safety and about early detection,” Andrea said.

“I hope I can encourage people to think about their sun habits and take precautions.

“It’s so important, because almost nine in ten melanoma cases each year in the UK could be prevented by being safe in the sun and using a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen to avoid burning.”

Cancer Research UK and NIVEA SUN recommend the following when the sun is strong: 

  1. Seek Shade Especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK. Take a break under trees, umbrellas, and canopies, or go indoors.  
  2. Cover Up – With clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and UV protection sunglasses. Clothing should cover your shoulders. The more skin that’s covered by your clothing, the better the protection. 
  3. Apply Sunscreen – With at least SPF15 and four or five stars. Make sure to reapply it regularly and generously, especially after swimming, sweating, or towelling. 
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