Lorraine Futter was a bit blase about skin cancer before she was diagnosed with melanoma in 2019.
"We owned an avocado orchard out in Katikati so I spent a lot of time outside," the 60-year-old told the Bay of Plenty Times.
"I was of the generation who thought it was a badge to have tan lines."
Now Futter, a teacher with 34 years of classroom experience, wants to pass on the lessons she learned from her battle with cancer.
"It's a personal story but if I can get one person to go and get a check and prevent them from experiencing pain and discomfort and possible changes of employment, then sharing will be worth it."
New Zealand has the highest incidence rate - the probability of a medical condition occurring in a population - of melanoma in the world.
There have been 696 registered cases of melanoma in the Lakes and Bay of Plenty District Health Boards over the past three years, according to provisional data provided by the Ministry of Health.
In the Bay of Plenty DHB, there were 519 cases between 2018 and 2020, meanwhile, in the Lakes DHB, there were 177 cases.
In 2020 alone, there were 58 melanoma cases in the Lakes DHB and 180 in BOP DHB.
According to Melanoma New Zealand, over 350 Kiwis die of melanoma every year.
Non-profit health promotion program Sunsmart estimates that in recent years, more New Zealanders have died from melanoma than die on our roads.
For Futter, learning more about melanoma began in March 2019.
"I had a mole on my back which started changing," Futter said.
"I went to the doctor and the first time I saw them they said it didn't look like too much to worry about."
The mole on Futter's back continued to change quickly so she went back for a second check-up.
"They did a biopsy and discovered it was a stage 3 metastatic melanoma."
Metastatic melanoma is cancer that has spread to other sites of the body. The situation was serious.
"I was at the surgeon's within days."
Doctors found the melanoma had travelled to the right of Futter's neck and had gone into the lymph node under her right arm.
Futter went through two surgeries to remove the cancerous cells. Then complications from the first surgery led to a third operation on Futter's lung.
Futter is now cancer-free but is still in the process of recovering from her ordeal.
"It was harder for me to do things because I got tired more easily and that was really frustrating," Futter said.
"When you don't have lymph nodes in one particular area of the body excess fluid can build up. My right arm can get sore and uncomfortable.
"I have to wear a pressure bandage on my right arm and do exercises. "
Futter sees a physiotherapist every fortnight. She also attends an annual scan to check if the melanoma has returned.
"It takes a while to bounce back. In the end, you've just got to deal with it and push through the hard stuff because there's no way around it."
Futter believes young people these days are better informed about sun safety.
"The problem is with people of my age where the damage has happened a lot earlier on and maybe they aren't as vigilant about checking their skin.
"We've already done the damage. So we need to be sun-smart and be vigilant."
Futter said skin checks should be as regular as going to the dentist.
"And don't be afraid to go back and ask them to check again. Don't give up because it's your life."
Futter also said using sunscreen was just one way to look after yourself.
"You need to look after your body from the get-go, the way you eat, sleep, exercise.
"Melanoma is just one of the things that you can prevent by making good decisions early on."
Futter said she was happy to be able to return to cycling and swimming this year.
New Zealand Cancer Society medical director Dr Kate Gregory explained that melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can be caused by unprotected exposure to UV radiation.
"People are more at risk if they have a history of childhood sunburn, a family history of melanoma, fair skin or lots of moles."
Gregory said UV radiation from the sun is dangerous because it can cause damage to the DNA in skin cells which can lead to cancer.
"Most melanomas can be very successfully treated with simple surgery. Some people require more extensive surgery," Gregory said.
In some cases, the effects of melanoma can be more severe.
"Melanoma can spread to their parts of the body and in this case patients may be offered drug treatment with immunotherapy this can be very successful but some people do still die from this disease."
Gregory said the best way to protect yourself from melanoma is to be sun-smart.
Tips for protecting your skin against UV radiation:
• Wear long sleeves, pants, skirt or lavalava
• Note that men are most likely to develop melanoma on their back, and women are most likely to get them on their legs.
• Your sunscreen should be water-resistant, broad-spectrum and at least SPF30
• Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside
• Reapply sunscreen every two hours
• Use nine teaspoons of sunscreen: one per arm, two for each leg, one for your face, neck and ears and two for your torso
• Check your sunscreen's expiration dates
• Store your sunscreen correctly at below 30C
• Wear a broad-brimmed hat with at least a 7.5cm brim
• Caps do not protect the neck, ears, or side of the face
• Remember that UV radiation is strongest between 10am and 4pm
• A regular full body skin check by your GP or a dermatologist is recommended.
Source: Melanoma New Zealand