Cruise ship dancer who loves sunbathing on deck receives worst festive gift ever when she discovers she has skin cancer on Christmas Eve

·7-min read

A cruise ship dancer who loved sunbathing on deck received the worst festive gift ever when she discovered on Christmas Eve that she had skin cancer.

Kassandra Barker, 24, was landlocked during the 2020 pre-festive Covid lockdown when she decided to get a mole she had always had on her wrist checked out – only to discover that it was cancerous.

Diagnosed with stage 1 melanoma, a type of skin cancer, Kassandra, of Washington, Tyne and Wear, who has now been given the all clear, said: “Even though I was working out at sea, I never really worried about my sun exposure and would think nothing of sunbathing on the deck before the evening shows.”

Kassandra has since had the all-clear. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra has since had the all-clear. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “Now, though, I’m very careful and always make sure to wear factor 50 sunscreen.”

Going under the knife to have the cancerous mole removed in October 2020, Kassandra, who met her singer boyfriend Lloyd Green, 30, when they were both performing on a cruise to the Canary Islands in 2019, could not return to work until February this year.

The dancer first noticed there was something wrong with the mole on her left wrist back in March 2020, when she was just 22.

She said: “I just had an inkling that something was wrong with it.

“It wasn’t hurting or itching and hadn’t changed shape, but I just had a feeling.

“Still, to find out it was skin cancer was really shocking, especially as I was so young.”

Kassandra has worked on cruise ships since 2018. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra has worked on cruise ships since 2018. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Working on cruise ships since 2018, Kassandra has entertained passengers on trips to Norway and across the Mediterranean.

But, when she first became concerned about the mole on her wrist, she said there was not much she could do about it.

She added: “I wanted to get it seen to, just to make sure nothing was wrong with it, but around that time, the pandemic had just hit.”

Kassandra met her boyfriend Lloyd on a cruise in 2019. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra met her boyfriend Lloyd on a cruise in 2019. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I was in Southampton going through rehearsals for my next cruise job and we all got sent home as the country went into lockdown.”

Finally, in October 2020, having felt bad about bothering the doctor because of the pandemic, she knew she needed to show the mole to a professional.

Sent for a biopsy after she was examined, to see if the mole was cancerous, she was told to expect the results within a few weeks.

She said: “Covid was causing delays but I was told I would find out before Christmas.

“Then, when December 23 rolled around and I still hadn’t heard anything, I gave the hospital a ring.

“The woman on the phone was shocked that I hadn’t been contacted and she urged me to come in the next day.”

Kassandra was diagnosed with skin cancer on Christmas Eve 2020. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra was diagnosed with skin cancer on Christmas Eve 2020. (Collect/PA Real Life)

On Christmas Eve, Kassandra was given the news that she had stage 1 melanoma – skin cancer.

She said: “Even though at that point I knew something wasn’t right, it was still a shock.

“I felt relieved to hear it was stage 1 and the doctors reassured me that it was very treatable.”

The mole was 13mm in diameter and doctors advised Kassandra she would need another procedure to remove small tissue around the area, to prevent it from spreading.

She said: “I didn’t have that operation until February 26, 2021, and doctors said the cancer was very controllable.

“The world had started to return to normal by that point and the cruise ships were starting up again.”

Kassandra’s mole was stage 1 melanoma. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra’s mole was stage 1 melanoma. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I kept getting calls from my bosses asking me if I could go on different trips, but it was impossible to while I was still going through tests and waiting for results and more operations.”

Other moles on Kassandra’s body were checked in the summer of 2021, which led to a further three being removed.

She said: “I desperately wanted to be back performing on the cruise ships, but I couldn’t after my diagnosis.”

The 24-year-old would sunbathe before evening shows. (Collect/PA Real Life)
The 24-year-old would sunbathe before evening shows. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “There were three moles that had changed slightly, either in shape or they were starting to itch.

“I had a procedure to remove a mole on my thigh, a mole on my calf and a mole on the bottom of my foot, which left me a wheelchair while I recovered over Christmas 2021, which was a bit miserable.

“More than anything, it was mentally very tough, because I’d already had a year of being landlocked by the pandemic, so to be stuck for another year at home with cancer was a further blow.”

Luckily, the procedures were a success and, after the three moles were tested and discovered to be non-cancerous, Kassandra was given the all-clear.

She said: “It was the best news. Since then, I’ve had another check-up from which everything came back clear, so I have been discharged now.

“I won’t need any further check-ups unless I notice any changes, which was a huge relief to hear.”

Kassandra is now encouraging other people to check their skin. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra is now encouraging other people to check their skin. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I’ve met other people with cancer during my time in hospital who have not been so lucky and it makes me realise just how fortunate I have been with my diagnosis.”

Now Kassandra is back to doing what she loves.

She said: “I went out on a cruise to the Caribbean in February this year and it felt amazing to be back doing what I love most – although I was careful to stay out of the sun and if I did go in it, out came the factor 50.”

Kassandra now wears factor 50 sunscreen. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra now wears factor 50 sunscreen. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “It has been a tough couple of years, but I’m back in rehearsals now before heading out again soon on a different ship going to Norway and the Baltics.

“When I was initially diagnosed, I was given all of the details for the Teenage Cancer Trust. They have a place called the hub in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, where people can go and socialise, and they had a lot of information available.

“It was a great escape for me, as I was living at home during my diagnosis and I was worried about becoming a burden to my family.”

She added: “I needed something to put my time towards so I started raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust by posting on social media and hosting events.

“I also started a petition to encourage more people to check their skin. It felt like a positive way to occupy myself while I couldn’t work.”

And Kassandra is still keen to spread the message for people to check themselves.

“Now that I’m better and back performing on the cruises, I still want to urge everyone to keep a close eye on their moles for any slight changes,” she said.

“Even moles that don’t seem to change can end up being sinister, as proven by my mole on my wrist.”

Kassandra is also far more careful now about spending time in the sun – especially when she is on a cruise.

Kassandra works as a dancer on cruise ships. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Kassandra works as a dancer on cruise ships. (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I’ll be honest, I was never a worrier about skin cancer before my diagnosis. I would put on sunscreen in the morning but I never reapplied.

“And I would sunbathe whenever I got chance. It’s just the lifestyle of being on the ship.

“I’m so careful now that when I was out there in February I got vitamin D deficiency!”

She added: “I’m finding a happy medium now, though. I don’t avoid the sun completely but I cover up and I wear sunscreen.

“I’m so glad things have returned to normal, but I will definitely be checking my skin regularly from now on.”

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