CARMEN Oakes was given the all-clear in 2014 after having a cancerous mole removed.
But the tan-loving mum couldn’t give up her regular sunbed visits – and was handed a shocking diagnosis.
Now facing a worse fate, Carmen admits she was ‘stupid’ to squander her ‘second chance at life’.
Carmen, 48, was told a red-coloured mole on her back was cancerous in June 2014, but she was declared free of skin cancer after a successful op.
However, despite the scare, Carmen couldn’t give up her 30-year sunbed habit and continued tanning almost weekly to keep her golden glow.
In January this year, a four-inch mass was found in her right lung and Carmen received the horrifying news she had stage four metastatic melanoma.
The mum-of-two now regrets not heeding her first warning and blames sunbeds for her devastating diagnosis – warning others to ‘avoid ruining their skin’ with their powerful UV rays.
The Sun’s Dying For A Tan campaign raises awareness of the risks associated with sunbeds.
Carmen, from Portsmouth, Hampshire, said: “I was playing with fire, but me being stupid, I thought ‘oh well, they’ve just cut it out’.
“I had a second chance in life so I still went back on [tanning beds].
“I should never have gone back on them.”
Carmen confessed to sneaking in a sunbed session with her husband for the smallest occasion – like before Christmas or going out.
“Please don’t think a tan is more important than having your life,” she pleaded with tan-lovers.
“Those sunbeds damage your skin. They age you and they kill you.”
Carmen also flagged how some still remain unaware of how dangerous the hobby can be.
“There’s so many people that use these sunbeds at such a young age and they don’t realise that they give you cancer.
“They are not safe and please do not listen to what they say in the shops.”
Carmen began using sunbeds at age 15.
She and her sister would hire them for around six-week periods to enjoy hour-long sessions.
She says beds have become more intense since then, so has been visiting salons around once a week for the past 20 years to enjoy 10-minute stints.
Her 26-year-old daughter, Chloe Jones, noticed a mole on her mum’s back in June 2014 and urged her to go and get it checked out.
The mole was removed a month later but tests confirmed it was cancerous, so doctors made a second incision to check if it had spread.
Further tests gave Carmen the all-clear, but the worrying experience didn’t stop her returning to using sunbeds.
The fitness-obsessed grandma complained about pain in her shoulders and her arms to pals in September 2021 but six months of iron supplements didn’t fix her problems.
Blood tests and trips to a rheumatologist couldn’t identify the issue either, but intense pain after one of her appointments in January this year led to a horrifying re-diagnosis.
Carmen said: “The day after I saw the rheumatologist I woke up and I was in excruciating pain on the left side of my chest.
“I thought it was a coincidence but I rang my daughter Chloe and told her I’ve got pain in my chest and it’s just really painful.
“I rang A&E and they told me to come down, so I went that day. They did a chest X-ray and they found that I had fluid around the lung.
“[The doctor] wanted me to have a fast-track CT scan but I didn’t think anything of it. I just thought it’s probably fluid from when I had Covid in December 2022.”
But when Carmen received her CT scan results on January 18, they revealed a mass in her left lung.
A biopsy on January 24 confirmed it was cancerous.
The following month medics broke the heart-stopping news that her tumour was metastatic melanoma and it had returned from her previous diagnosis.
They sadly told Carmen that the tumour could not be removed due to where it was in her lung, as it was attached to her blood vessels and heart chambers.
Carmen began immunotherapy treatment, which involves the injection of drugs to control the tumour, in March this year which has reduced her tumour to half the size.
Despite feeling drained following her diagnosis, Carmen remains positive as she continues taking part in her gym classes every day.
Carmen said: “Even though I’m supposedly stage four, I still can do all my classes and sometimes I think have they made a mistake because I feel alright?
“I think having a positive attitude has really helped me a lot. I’ll do whatever I can to stay alive.”
Carmen has finally sworn off sunbeds – but she still loves a golden glow.
“You can get fake tans now and they actually make my skin look better,” she said.
Her experience also deterred her daughter from using sunbeds for good.
And she sought to dispel some myths about who is most vulnerable to skin cancer.
“You know it’s all very well people saying they don’t burn but you still can get melanoma even if you don’t burn. I’m half Maltese, my mum is from Malta, and I’ve never burnt. It doesn’t matter.”
Carmen is concerned that young girls using sunbeds might be handed a similar diagnosis down the line.
“You’ve got so many young girls out there. They’re so beautiful and they ruin their skin at such a young age by going on sunbeds and they don’t realise.
“They start using sunbeds so young but 20 years down the line that cancer comes out.”