Having developed a number of skin reactions during cancer treatment, journalist Verite Reily Collins found that the solutions her doctors presented her with were not satisfactory. So, she did what she does best - investigate, and so began a journey of discovery into skincare during and after cancer.
Were you always interested in skincare?
I used to be a beauty and skincare editor for an American magazine, an in the USA they are very particular about research - they like facts. So, I got interested in skin, skincare what people bought, and became very familiar with looking at the labels and the studies around different products.
What happened to your skin during cancer treatment?
When I got cancer, I woke up one morning after a particular treatment and my skin was covered in these awful blisters. When I went to hospital about it, they brushed it aside, and when I pushed to speak to a dermatologist, I was told I had to go private. When I did see a private consultant in the UK, he told me that it was ‘just your age’. I knew enough that you don’t get that sort of reaction overnight from age, so I spoke to a few people and I was put in touch with someone with at a skincare company in France.
Were they able to offer an explanation?
They ran lots of tests and concluded that it was linked to the Tamoxifen that I had been put on. They gave me many products to try and clinical trials to read, written up in English, so I was really able to understand what was happening and find ways to support my skin. I came back my hospital in the UK and presented them with the information, it was only to find it all in a bin in the hallway a short while later. However, the British Association of Dermatologists took it much more seriously. The more research I did, I found that their service simply isn’t linked to cancer treatment in the UK, and we have around half the number of dermatologists that other European countries have.
Do other countries link cancer treatment and dermatology services?
After that, I got interested in different countries and what they provided. In many their cancer associations have indeed joined up with research and skincare companies, setting up clinical trials to address the effect of treatments on cancer patients. They spend a lot of money on research and it is acknowledged in cancer hospitals. We don’t pay enough attention to our skin in the UK, and as we now have a huge number of skin cancer cases as well, it’s more important than ever that we do things to look after our skin. We’re very good at research but very bad about applying it.
Did you get a solution for the effect cancer treatment had on your skin?
I used products from the company I found in France for a while, but they are no available. I now use the Jennifer Young products and they truly work. I still get side effects from the hormonal drugs which I continue to take following my cancer treatment, to help prevent the cancer from coming back. They are supposed to be less severe, but they stay in your body for 15 years or more, so every so often I will have an outbreak of itchy or peeling skin and I apply the Jennifer Young products that I have until I find the one which works.
Did the skincare problems have an impact on your wider wellbeing - your mental health for example?
I am not a very introspective; I just got angry. I thought ‘you’ve done this to me, and I am going to do something about it’. It does affect your mental health, but it isn’t about putting it under that banner because this particular aspect is actually physical.
When I found products that helped like Jennifer Young, it was wonderful. It was so good to have an answer as to what was causing the blisters. I started reading more of the clinical trials and the more I understood, the more confidence I had to go back to the hospital and say ‘this is what I want and I’m waiting to get it!’
What’s your advice for other people?
The short answer is that you have to advocate for yourself, but that’s much easier said than done. It’s difficult because I was in a unique position. As a travel journalist at that time, it was easy for me to access free travel and get introductions that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to afford. However, reading, researching and standing up for yourself if you have a problem are really important. In addition to that, I think it’s important to recognise that if you develop a problem like extremely dry skin, but you stopped cancer treatment 10 years ago, it still might be connected. Knowing that might help you in finding a solution faster, finding the right skincare again, and realising it’s not just something you have to put up with.
British Association of Dermatologists: https://www.bad.org.uk
Verite writes more on www.aftercancers.com.