Support worker who never sunbathes has two aggressive skin cancer tumours removed from her face but her husband insists she is “beautiful”

·7-min read

A support worker who has never sunbathed but fears she will eventually lose most of her face to skin cancer after having aggressive tumours removed from beneath her eye and her cheek says her husband still insists she is “absolutely beautiful.”

Keen to stress that “not just sun worshippers” can get skin cancer, Debbie Lindley, 49, was seeing a GP about a rash on her right foot in March 2020, when she mentioned in passing a “pearl-like” lump her daughter had noticed under her right eye – which she was instructed to have tested.

Flabbergasted when, two weeks later, she was told she had basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a cancer that starts in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis or skin, she was booked in to have it removed a few months later in June at Harrogate District Hospital in Harrogate, North Yorkshire.

Sadly, in May 2022, a further tumour was discovered on her right cheek and Debbie, who lives in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, with her joiner husband Graham Voakes, 49, and their daughter Megan, 17, had further surgery, saying: “The operation lasted nine minutes and they removed 3cm of skin from my cheek. It’s a complete mess.”

Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I look really weird, but my husband says I’m still absolutely beautiful.

“My husband is really queasy, he wasn’t even able to be in the same room as me during my caesarean.

“But even though I looked the way I did he greeted me with a big kiss when I got out of surgery which was lovely.

“There was nothing that made me happier than seeing him. He told me he was proud of me, and that I didn’t even look that bad.”

The spot which turned out to be skin cancer (Collect/PA Real Life)
The spot which turned out to be skin cancer (Collect/PA Real Life)

Sadly, Debbie has been warned that the latest 3cm lesion may well not be the last.

She said: “I have been told that there’s a 50 per cent chance of it coming back and I know that I will have to keep losing more and more parts of my face.

“I need to hope the scars will heal, but I will just get on with it.

“I have been married for 19 years and losing part of my face really affected my confidence. Especially after the second surgery, I worried that my husband wouldn’t look at me anymore.”

She added: “I told him how anxious I was about how the scars would heal, but he has been my rock.

“He has kept reassuring me that he will still fancy me if I have scars.”

Despite her shock at developing skin cancer without deliberately exposing herself to the sun, Debbie realises she was very lucky that her tumour was spotted early.

She said: “I had no signs at all. I would never have even known to ask my GP if my daughter hadn’t spotted the little pearl, which just looked like a spot under my eye.”

Debbie after her first surgery in 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie after her first surgery in 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “I went to the doctor because of a rash I had on my foot, which turned out to be an allergy, and I told him that my daughter had noticed the pearl.

“I wasn’t concerned at all, but he said they’d investigate it and booked me in for an appointment two weeks later.”

Confirmed that she had BCC, one of the most common forms of skin cancer, which accounts for 75 in every 100 cases in the UK, according to the NHS, the diagnosis took Debbie completely by surprise.

Debbie after her first surgery in 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie after her first surgery in 2020 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I thought it was just a spot or maybe a cyst at worst and never would have expected cancer. It was really shocking to find out.

“I had never sunbathed in my life and never went sun chasing, yet I got skin cancer. I didn’t understand how that was possible.

“I feel like it was quite unlucky for me to have got it.

“I went to Harrogate District Hospital and when they told me they needed to operate, I was just petrified.”

Debbie after surgery in 2022 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie after surgery in 2022 (Collect/PA Real Life)

Although the 20 minute operation was a success, after being warned the cancer could return and become aggressive, Debbie remained fearful that her face would eventually be eaten away.

She said: “Apparently, this cancer isn’t normally fatal, but it grows extremely fast and can be incredibly disfiguring and I felt so blessed that we had at least caught it when we did.

“I was really worried about how I would look after surgery – if I’d be recognisable to my daughter and my husband.”

Subsequently obsessive about checking her skin for tumours, for nearly two years Debbie’s face remained clear.

Debbie after surgery in 2022 (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie after surgery in 2022 (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “I tried to move on with life after that.  I think I almost forgot I’d had cancer sometimes, because I felt good.

“For the next two years, I just kept trying to live my life to the fullest.

“It was a strange time for everyone with the pandemic, so there wasn’t time to really focus on things like that.”

Debbie Lindley (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie Lindley (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “But it did affect me every day, because I didn’t want it to come back.

“I checked my skin every single morning and would constantly check my face.”

And in March 2022, alarm bells started ringing for Debbie when she noticed a “pimple” on her right cheek which became increasingly sore.

Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)

Following an online consultation, she was asked to see a dermatologist and, after subsequent tests, it was confirmed that the cancer was back.

She said: “It was quite different this time, as the doctors didn’t merely suggest I should have surgery, they said I needed to have it urgently.

“They said the cancer was growing rapidly and if I didn’t have it removed as soon as possible, it could disfigure my face and make it more difficult for them to operate.”

Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)

She added: “The idea of needing a skin graft was the most terrifying part.

“I went into panic stations at this point and spent days crying and crying.

“I had horrendous panic attacks and even though the staff were amazing, I was just so scared.”

Debbie had a nine-minute operation to remove the 3cm lesion in May 2022, which she says has left her looking a “complete mess”.

Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)

So, it was a huge comfort when Graham was waiting for her when she came out of surgery and gave her a big hug and a kiss.

While medics believe they have removed all the cancerous skin again, Debbie knows she is not in the clear yet, as there is still a 50/50 chance another tumour will form.

Now she is keen to stress the importance of people checking their faces for lesions, as she says detecting any cancer early can mean the difference between “life and death” or “losing your face completely”.

Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)
Debbie with her daughter Megan (Collect/PA Real Life)

She said: “In some ways I feel so unlucky, but I also feel so lucky to have spotted both of these tumours early, before they ruined my face completely.

“If you spot anything unusual, or if you feel something is wrong, just go and get checked. Speak to your GP.

“It could make the difference between life and death, or your face being saved or disfigured.”

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