Former landscape gardener who “never worried about using sunscreen” promotes sun safety after finding tennis ball-sized lump under his arm

·7-min read

A former landscape gardener who spent eight hours a day working outdoors and “never worried about using sunscreen” is warning people to be sun savvy after waking to find a tennis ball-sized lump under his arm that turned out to be a cancerous tumour.

Shane McCormick, 47, who now works as a landscaping sector manager, was initially diagnosed with skin cancer in 2017 after a mole was removed, but thought he was in the clear until, two years later, it suddenly returned, spreading to his lymph nodes.

Undergoing surgery and immunotherapy, Shane is now raising awareness on the dangers of working outside without sun protection.

Shane pictured here with his wife and children. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane pictured here with his wife and children. (Collect/PA Real Life)

Shane, who lives in Southampton with his wife, Denise, 50, a hairdresser, and their two children, Jack, 24, a teacher, and Molly, 20, a builders’ merchant worker, said: “I was a landscape gardener for 13 years and never worried about using sun cream or staying in the shade.

“I wore a t-shirt and shorts most days and, if it was a warm day, my top would come off. I think most industries that work outside are like that.

“I suppose looking back, I was ignorant to the possibilities and consequences of being out in the sun all day every day.”

But it was back in April 2017 that Shane made a visit to the doctor after discovering a new mole on his back.

He said: “I had switched roles about eight years prior but the damage of 13 years working outside without sun protection had already been done.

“I had a mole appear on my back and a freckle appeared on my face and, to be honest, I was more concerned about my appearance than thinking it was anything serious.”

Shane, pictured here on the far right, worked outside as a landscape gardener for 13 years. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane, pictured here on the far right, worked outside as a landscape gardener for 13 years. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “So, when I went to the doctor’s, it was to see if it could get the freckle on my face removed.”

But once there, Shane’s GP was concerned by the mole on his back.

Shane said: “I was referred to Winchester Hospital where I had the mole removed in a biopsy.

“It was just before the bank holiday weekend in May 2017 when I was asked to come in for my results.”

Shane and Denise were due to go away for the weekend and stopped off at the hospital on their way to Woolacombe to hear the news.

Shane said: “I really didn’t expect it to be anything serious. We didn’t even tell the kids about it because we thought it would be nothing.

“But when we arrived, a doctor took us into a private room and explained that I had skin cancer. I was so shocked. It was a lot to digest.”

Shane’s GP was concerned about the mole that had appeared on his back. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane’s GP was concerned about the mole that had appeared on his back. (Collect/PA Real Life)

When further tests revealed the cancer had been removed during the biopsy, Shane says he breathed a sigh of relief.

He said: “Afterwards I went to a dermatologist and at first glance of my back, they said ‘wow, you’ve seen a lot of sun’.

“It was embarrassing for me because I hadn’t realised it would be so obvious. It was at that point I realised my skin was quite damaged.”

He added: “It was a wake-up call to me that I needed to be protecting my skin from the sun and, immediately after my diagnosis, I started wearing sun cream regularly.

“It was all so straight forward and I didn’t need any further treatment so it felt like I’d had a lucky escape.

“I had two years after that of thinking that everything was fine.”

Shane was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2017. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane was first diagnosed with skin cancer in 2017. (Collect/PA Real Life)

But in November 2019, Shane says he awoke one morning to find a lump under his right arm.

He said: “I remember I’d had a busy weekend, meeting clients in London on the Friday and then I had watched the rugby on the Saturday.

“On Sunday morning, I woke up to find a tennis ball sized lump had seemingly appeared overnight under my arm.

He added: “I think I was in denial because I dismissed it and even went to work the following day. But I couldn’t get the niggling thought out of my mind so I left work and drove straight to Southampton General Hospital.”

At the hospital, Shane underwent tests and was asked to come back when the results were ready.

He said: “It was December 23rd when they asked me to return.”

Shane had the mole removed during a biopsy in 2017. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane had the mole removed during a biopsy in 2017. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He added: “My wife and I were nervously sat in the waiting room when they called my name. They said that the lump was a tumour and the cancer had returned. It had spread to my lymph nodes.

“The world just came crashing down around me. One minute I had thought everything was great and wonderful, the next minute I’m finding out the cancer had spread and that I would require an operation.”

Shane’s surgery to remove the cancerous lump was scheduled for the first week of January in 2020.

He said: “To say it was a rough Christmas is an understatement. I just wanted to get the surgery over and done with.

“During the op, they also removed 24 lymph nodes as well as the tumour.”

But Shane says the results of the procedure were positive.

Shane underwent immunotherapy after finding out his cancer had spread in 2019. (Collect/PA Real Life)
Shane underwent immunotherapy after finding out his cancer had spread in 2019. (Collect/PA Real Life)

He said: “I feel very lucky. All looked well after the op and, once I’d recovered, I went through immunotherapy in March 2020.

“Since then, I’ve had the all-clear which was just incredible.”

Shane now wears a lymphoedema sleeve over his right arm where his lymph nodes were removed, which puts pressure on his limb to keep the lymph flowing, and he cannot sit in the sun.

  • getting bigger

  • changing shape

  • changing colour

  • bleeding or becoming crusty

  • itchy or sore

He said: “I have to be very careful. During the recent heatwaves, I was wearing long sleeved tops, sat under umbrellas and was covered in factor 50 sun cream.

“Long gone are the days of working topless in the garden.”

A national survey by Melanoma UK and builders merchant Jewson has found up to 60 per cent of UK tradespeople working outdoors are not checking their skin for signs of cancer, despite the increased risk.

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

The new research, which polled over 2,000 tradespeople in the UK, also found that more than 30 per cent of construction workers are not using sun protection on site.

Jewson have now launched their ‘Hard Hat Your Skin’ campaign, which sees them stocking sunscreen at all their branches.

Shane hopes to raise awareness of the risk of skin cancer for outdoor workers, saying: “Twenty years ago, skin cancer wasn’t talked about much on the jobsite and, personally, I wasn’t interested in having conversations around the dangers of sun exposure.”

He added: “I hope this is changing, tradespeople need to take these risks seriously.

“Sunscreen should be part of essential PPE for builders and outdoor tradespeople.

“I want people to be aware of the signs to look out for so that other people won’t face the same diagnosis I did.”