A cruise ship dancer in her 20s who enjoyed sunbathing on deck whenever she got the chance was shocked to discover she had skin cancer – on Christmas Eve.
Kassandra Barker, 24, was landlocked during the 2020 pre-festive Covid lockdown when she decided to get a mole she'd always had on her wrist checked out.
To her alarm, she was diagnosed with stage one melanoma (melanoma is considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer). Barker, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, has now completely changed the way she spends her time in sunny locations around the world and is keen to urge others to check themselves.
“Even though I was working out at sea, I never really worried about my sun exposure and would think nothing of sunbathing on the deck before the evening shows," she says.
“Now, though, I’m very careful and always make sure to wear factor 50 sunscreen.”
Barker, who had surgery to remove the cancerous mole more than a year and a half ago, has only just been able to return to work as of February this year.
The dancer first noticed something was wrong with the mole on her left wrist in March 2020, at just 22 years old.
“I just had an inkling that something was wrong with it," she recalls.
“It wasn’t hurting or itching and hadn’t changed shape, but I just had a feeling.
“Still, to find out it was skin cancer was really shocking, especially as I was so young.”
Barker has lived the life working on cruise ships since 2018, entertaining passengers on trips to Norway and across the Mediterranean. She even met her singer boyfriend Lloyd Green, 30, when they were both performing on a cruise ship to the Canary Islands in 2019.
But when she first had the inkling something was wrong with her mole, the timing was tricky. “I wanted to get it seen to, just to make sure nothing was wrong with it, but around that time, the pandemic had just hit," she recalls.
“I was in Southampton going through rehearsals for my next cruise job and we all got sent home as the country went into lockdown.”
But, at last, in October 2020, after feeling bad about bothering the doctor because of the pandemic, Barker knew she needed a professional to look at her mole. This resulted in her being sent for a biopsy to see if it was cancerous, and was told she'd get the results in a few weeks.
“Covid was causing delays but I was told I would find out before Christmas," she says.
“Then, when December 23 rolled around and I still hadn’t heard anything, I gave the hospital a ring.
“The woman on the phone was shocked that I hadn’t been contacted and urged me to come in the next day.”
Receiving the worst festive present she could imagine, Barker received the devastating news she had stage one melanoma on Christmas Eve.
However, she adds, “I felt relieved to hear it was stage one and the doctors reassured me that it was very treatable.”
Her cancerous mole was 13mm in diameter and doctors said she would need another procedure to remove small tissue around the area to stop it from spreading.
“I didn’t have that operation until February 26, 2021, and doctors said the cancer was very controllable," she says, recalling her relief.
“The world had started to return to normal by that point and the cruise ships were starting up again.
“I kept getting calls from my bosses asking me if I could go on different trips, but it was impossible to while I was still going through tests and waiting for results and more operations.
“I desperately wanted to be back performing on the cruise ships, but I couldn’t after my diagnosis.”
With further examinations in the summer of 2021 leading to three more moles being removed, Barker was left debilitated, as well as her life being put on hold.
“There were three moles that had changed slightly, either in shape or they were starting to itch," she says.
“I had a procedure to remove a mole on my thigh, a mole on my calf and a mole on the bottom of my foot, which left me a wheelchair while I recovered over Christmas 2021, which was a bit miserable.
“More than anything, it was mentally very tough, because I’d already had a year of being landlocked by the pandemic, so to be stuck for another year at home with cancer was a further blow.”
Thankfully, the procedures were a success and, after the moles were tested and found to be non-cancerous, she was given the all-clear.
“It was the best news. Since then, I’ve had another check-up from which everything came back clear, so I have been discharged now," she says.
“I won’t need any further check-ups unless I notice any changes, which was a huge relief to hear.”
Despite her ordeal, Barker is determined to find the positives. “I’ve met other people with cancer during my time in hospital who have not been so lucky and it makes me realise just how fortunate I have been with my diagnosis.”
When Barker was initially diagnosed, she found the Teenage Cancer Trust, particularly 'the hub' in her hometown, where people can socialise and find the information they need, extremely helpful.
“It was a great escape for me, as I was living at home during my diagnosis and I was worried about becoming a burden to my family," she says.
Barker also made it her mission to help others despite what she was going through. “I needed something to put my time towards so I started raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust by posting on social media and hosting events," she says.
“I also started a petition to encourage more people to check their skin. It felt like a positive way to occupy myself while I couldn’t work.”
At last, she's back doing what she does best, dancing, with just a few small lifestyle changes to make a big difference. “I went out on a cruise to the Caribbean in February this year and it felt amazing to be back doing what I love most – although I was careful to stay out of the sun and if I did go in it, out came the factor 50," she says.
“I’ll be honest, I was never a worrier about skin cancer before my diagnosis. I would put on sunscreen in the morning but I never reapplied," she adds, typical of many sunbathers.
“And I would sunbathe whenever I got chance. It’s just the lifestyle of being on the ship.
“I’m so careful now that when I was out there in February I got vitamin D deficiency!”
The future is looking bright though. “It has been a tough couple of years, but I’m back in rehearsals now before heading out again soon on a different ship going to Norway and the Baltics."
Watch: TikTok user describes battle with melanoma
And even now she's better and back performing, she "still wants to urge everyone to keep a close eye on their moles for any slight changes".
“Even moles that don’t seem to change can end up being sinister, as proven by my mole on my wrist.”
Barker says she is now "finding a happy medium" and doesn't avoid the sun completely, but still covers up and wears sunscreen.
“I’m so glad things have returned to normal, but I will definitely be checking my skin regularly from now on," she says.
Most moles are usually harmless unless you notice changes. See a GP if one changes shape or looks uneven, changes colour, gets darker or has more than two colours, starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding, or gets larger or more raised from the skin.
If you or someone you know is affected by melanoma, contact support group Melanoma UK on 0808 171 2455 or via their online form.
Additional reporting PA.