Tiny pimple under woman’s eye turned out to be a sign of skin cancer

Claire was awake throughout the surgery (Picture: MDWfeatures/Claire Porter)

What began as a tiny pimple on 37-year-old Claire Porter’s cheek turned out to be a malignant tumour that required reconstructive surgery.

Administrative manager Claire, from Northumberland, noticed a small whitehead on her cheek in June 2018, which started to grow over the following months.

She visited her GP to get it checked out in January 2019 where she was told it was a small cyst and nothing to worry about.

However in March of the same year, the spot burst while Claire was on holiday in the Lake District.

The area didn’t heal, leaving a ‘crater’ on Claire’s cheek which would crack and bleed every time she washed her face.

Concerned, she tried different over-the-counter creams and treatments, but nothing was working.

This prompted Claire to get a second opinion in September 2019, when she was referred to a dermatologist and in soon after diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma – a type of skin cancer – leaving Claire terrified and fearing for her life.

The scab that developed before Claire was diagnosed (Picture: MDWfeatures/Claire Porter)

By the point she had surgery in June this year, the tumour was over an inch wide and dragging her eye down.

Most of her cheek was removed and then reconstructed during a terrifying 40-minute surgery, which she was awake for, and Claire has been left with scarring on her face.

Now, she is cancer-free and sharing her journey on social media support groups and urges others with unusual marks on their skin to get checked out.

Claire is planning to move in with partner Dwight, 36, and continue advocating for early checks of potential tumours.

‘I noticed a tiny whitehead on my cheek two years ago which at first I ignored thinking it would disappear,’ Claire said.

Signs of skin cancer

Basal cell and squamous carcinoma marks that could be a sign of skin cancer appear in various different forms. According to the NHS, basal cell carcinomas can:

  • be smooth and pearly
  • look waxy
  • appear as a firm, red lump
  • bleed sometimes
  • develop a crust or scab
  • begin to heal but never completely heal
  • be itchy
  • look like a flat, red spot that is scaly and crusty
  • develop into a painless ulcer

Squamous cell carcinoma can:

  • look scaly
  • have a hard, crusty cap
  • make the skin raised in the area of the cancer
  • feel tender to touch
  • bleed sometimes

It’s important to see your GP if you’re worried about something new on your skin like this – particularly in areas that are often exposed to the sun like the face, neck, and hands.

The NHS also recommend that you see your GP if you have a mole that:

  • changes shape or looks uneven
  • changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours
  • starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding
  • gets larger or more raised from the skin

‘A few months later, I noticed it was growing and it looked like a pearlised lump under my skin. I went to see my GP and was told it was nothing to worry about, but to keep an eye on it.

‘I continued visiting the doctor over the following months because it kept growing but they insisted it was a cyst which would heal.’

Speaking of the moment when the spot burst on holiday, Claire added: ‘It looked like a crater on my face with a rolled and thick edge.

‘It would drive me mad as every time I washed my face it would crack and bleed, then a few days after healing it would do the same. It was a vicious cycle and would even stick to my pillow during the night.’

Believing it was just a cosmetic issue, Claire tried a number of antiseptic creams and tea tree oils, all to no avail. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was wrong.

She said: ‘After a three month wait in December 2019, I was diagnosed with skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma.

‘I was absolutely gutted but I was also frustrated because I had been trying to get a diagnosis for so long and felt ignored.

‘I was scheduled for Mohs surgery which is where layers of the skin are removed until only the cancer-free tissue remains.

‘The spot kept getting bigger and was over an inch wide by the time I had my surgery in June at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.

‘I was terrified and felt sick to my stomach. Luckily, my surgery only took forty minutes and then there was a five hour wait to see if it had been successful.’

Although people stare at her in the street, Claire is proud of her scars because they show how far she’s come (Picture: MDWfeatures/Claire Porter)

Claire was given local anaesthetic to freeze the area being operated on, but was awake throughout the procedure.

‘The toughest part had been worrying about how I’d look. I was scared that my face would end up lopsided or I would look totally different,’ she said.

‘I knew I would have a scar although I didn’t realise how big it would be – but it doesn’t bother me. It’s part of who I am and the journey I went through.

‘After the surgery, I had to keep the dressing on for two days then keep cleaning the wound. I was constantly doing that to make sure it healed well.

‘The surgeon did an amazing job with my stitches and after five days they started to fall out. I didn’t even have any pain other than a cracking black eye.

‘The first time I left the house three days after my surgery, I felt very anxious. I just popped out for some milk and noticed people staring.

‘Someone asked me once if I had been glassed in a bar fight but I just laughed it off. Usually people are surprised with how quickly my scar has healed.’

As well as sharing her journey on Facebook support groups, Claire is keen to highlight the warning signs of skin cancer to help others.

‘For me, it could have been a hundred times worse so I feel really lucky. I want everyone to know they have to get checked if they find any unusual marks on their skin.

‘I check my face every day now as I’m so worried more spots will appear. I’m hopeful that I won’t have to go through this again, but if I do then I will be prepared – and I’ll get it checked immediately.’

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