A sunbed addict who started ”frying” her skin aged 15 has been struck down with cancer THREE times – and lost a huge chunk of her leg to the disease.
Sonya McGrory, 37, used a sunbed every day as a teenager and would bask in the Mediterranean sun on holiday until she ”looked like a roast chicken”.
But after ten years of blasting her skin with UV rays she developed a grapefruit-sized tumour in her leg after a sunshine break in Menorca.
It was cut out by surgeons – earning her the nickname ‘Shark Bite’ because it looked like a huge chunk had been bitten from above her knee.
Four years later a second lump was removed from her groin and she needed a further two years of treatment.
But shortly after being given the all-clear she developed another lump on her back which was also removed – and is now finally in remission.
The brave mother-of-one says she is ”extremely lucky” to be alive and now covers herself in SPF30 whenever the sun comes out.
She said: ”I remember tanning from a very young age, even as a child I have memories of not being able to do handstands because my back was so burnt.
”I am naturally pale but I thought I looked better with a tan. I started using sunbeds when I was 15 and at some points used them every day.
”I was a silly girl who just wanted to be brown – but I was wish I’d seen the future as that would have stopped me destroying my skin.
”I know I am extremely lucky to be alive and it is such a huge relief that my bloods are all clear, but I do worry that it will come back again.”
Sonya started using a sunbed just after her 15th birthday when her mum hired a sunbed which they eventually bought because she used it so much.
She never used protection stronger that SPF2 – even during hours on the beach in the scorching Mediterranean sun.
”I loved the feel of UV rays soaking into my skin,” she said.
”When I was growing up I would dive into the garden whenever the sun peeped out and I never used protection more than factor 2 lotion when I was on holidays.
”After a few hours on the beach on holiday I would be cooked like a roast chicken.
”I felt satisfied by my new skin’s new pinky-brown hair. I thought I looked good.”
But during a holiday in Menorca in 1999 Sonya noticed a painful mole on her left knee – but still carried on sunbathing.
”I remember sitting on the beach thinking ‘I don’t like the look of that mole by my knee’,” she said.
”But even then I just put some extra sun cream on it so I could carry on tanning the rest of my leg.”
After returning home she went to her GP and was referred to a dermatologist at University Hospital in Coventry, who removed the mole straight away.
But further tests and a full biopsy revealed the mole was a malignant melanoma – the most serious type of skin cancer.
In 2000 she had the grapefruit-sized chunk out of her leg under general anaesthetic at the George Eliot Hospital in Bedworth.
She was due start a course of chemotherapy but then discovered she was pregnant and decided to delay the treatment to avoid damaging her unborn baby.
Sonya underwent monthly check-ups and the disease stayed away until 2004, when a routine check at University Hospital in Coventry found another lump on her groin, which was promptly removed.
She was then put on a course of immunity-boosting drug Interferon, which she self-injected three times each week for two years.
But just a month after finishing the treatment Sonya was gardening when she felt another lump on the upper right hand side of her back in 2006.
This meant the cancer had travelled around her body, from her leg to her groin and then up to her back.
The third lump was removed at University Hospital in Coventry, where Sonya now has quarterly check ups.
Her blood is now showing no traces of the cancer and she is classed as being in remission, which she describes as ”such a relief”.
The call centre worker said said: ”It has just been such a struggle and so, so hard.
”When they did a biopsy on the lump on my back they classed it as stage four, which is the final stage. If it had carried on it would have been inoperable.
”There we many times I thought I wouldn’t make it, we even planned our final family holiday and took lots of photos just in case.”
Sonya, who lives in Coventry with husband Pete, 39, a chef, and their son Joshua, eight, wants her experience to be warning to others.
She said: ”I know that people think tans look healthy and fake tans are not great but it is just not worth it.
”I think there should be greater regulation on sunbeds because people don’t know their limits – I certainly didn’t.
”I do worry when I walk around and see people burning their skin in the sun because it is just so dangerous.
”Now whenever I go out I make sure my skin is covered up and I always put suncream on myself, Pete and Joshua.
”I am just truly thankful to be alive.”
Around 9,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK every year, although Cancer Research UK estimates this will rise to 15,500 by 2024 – becoming the fourth most common cancer in men and women.