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After 'Cold Sore' Turns Out to Be Cancer, Woman Urges Others to Be Proactive

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Editor’s note: This post contains graphic post-operative photos.

“If it starts to grow, it’s got to go.” That’s the saying of 36-year-old Australian makeup artist and pole dancer extraordinaire Prudence “Pruzy” Chamberlain, who throughout the years, has had several run-ins with skin cancer. Her most recent experience was with a squamous cell carcinoma that left her hand in stitches.

Chamberlain’s first experience with cancer began in her early 20s. Chamberlain was born with a rare kidney disease and has had two kidney transplants, lowering her immune system and greatly increasing her chances of developing skin cancer.

Pruzy Chamberlain selfie

Ten years ago, she had her first experience with basal cell carcinoma, growths that form on the outer layer of the skin and look like sores or red patches.

“The most major one was on my top lip,” Chamberlain told The Mighty. “It had been there for two years and looked like a cold sore and it was extremely painful. It would crack and bleed, and would get itchy and start to burn.”

Pruzy Chamberlain Mole

For years, Chamberlain kept telling her general practitioner and dermatologist she was concerned about it, but she was told it was only a cold sore. She tried everything they told her to do, including using cream, Vaseline and antibiotics, but nothing worked.

After being told it was a cold sore one too many times, she demanded to see the head dermatologist.

“The head dermatologist took one look at my lip and confirmed what I’d been trying to tell everyone for the last two years: it was a skin cancer.”

By the time Chamberlain was told she should have surgery, her cancer had become too big for them to simply sew up after surgery. They would have to take part of her chin and flip it up to replace the cancerous skin that was removed. She would have to have her mouth sewn shut for three weeks to heal.

Pruzy Chamberlain lip closeup

“It was such a mess and so painful,” she said. “I was so mad no one had listened to me when I said something was wrong. To this day, I hate my lips and the scar that’s been left.”

After that experience, as soon as Chamberlain saw a lump on her hand, she knew exactly what it was because it had grown bigger within a six-week time period.

She walked into her doctor’s office and said she had squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer that spreads on the outer layer of the skin) on her hand, and she wanted it gone.

“I’m very lucky with that now. If I need something removed, it gets done,” she added.

Pruzy Chamberlain stitches

Pruzy Chamberlain skin cancer hand stitches

Pruzy Chamberlain skin cancer hand stitches 2

Pruzy Chamberlain skin cancer hand healing

All of these experiences, coupled with her no-nonsense attitude, sparked the saying, “If it starts to grow, it’s got to go.”

Although Chamberlain is used to getting various skin cancers removed through treatment every couple of months, she currently cancer-free. Now she’s sharing her story so others won’t have to go through the same thing, because she knows how easy it is for people to think it will never happen to them.

Pruzy Chamberlain in arm sling

“With so many safer alternatives to tanning now, there’s really no excuse to sit in the sun and burn your skin,” she said. “I keep sunscreen in my car, so I’m always reminded to put it on before I go anywhere. Look after your skin and get it checked every six months and always wear sunscreen.”

Chamberlain hasn’t let her experience with skin cancer stop her from being happy. In fact, she’s pretty happy right now. Not only is the Western Australian resident a makeup artist and hair stylist, but she also just started her own business. She even celebrated her 2-year kidney transplant anniversary on September 10.

Pruzy Chamberlain pole dance shot

And then there’s the pole fitness — something she’s been doing for the past two-and-a-half years, at least three or four times a week. It keeps her active and healthy, and she’s met some great people while at it.

Pruzy Chamberlain closeup

Follow Chamberlain’s skin cancer journey on Instagram.

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Originally published: September 18, 2017
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