Yorkshire woman dying from skin cancer creates a children’s book warning about sun danger

Jacqui Drake is dying from skin cancer, now she has produced a book to educate chlidren about the dangers of the sun. Catherine Scott reports.

Jacqui Drake has terminal cancer after a mole on her leg turned out to be melanoma and has just produced a book for children about sun awareness. All proceeds will go to her charity Jacqui's Millions which is raising £1m for Leeds Cancer Centre. Picture Tony Johnson

Jacqui Drake knows first hand the dangers of the sun.

The 58 year old from Bradford, has stage 4 melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. She had her first melanoma in her 20, but after having a mole removed from her leg, the cancer returned 17 years later.

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In 2016 she launched Jacqui’s Million – a campaign to raise £1million for the Leeds Cancer Centre where she received her treatment. Now, she has decided to do something to try to educate the next generation to have a healthier relationship with the sun.

“The fact that children were treated in hospital for extreme sun burn during last month’s heat wave shows that we are way behind other countries when it comes to sun protection and awareness,” says Jacqui.

“Just because you’re not flying to a beach holiday, it doesn’t mean you should forget the sunscreen. The damage to your skin now may not show up as cancer for many years.”

She said that national public health awareness on sun protection has proven to reduce melanoma rates. In Australia, their Slip! Slop! Slap! Awareness campaign has resulted in melanoma rates plummeting in the past 18 years.

To help change behaviours in parents and children, Jacqui has published a children’s book – Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen – in collaboration with fellow cancer patient, Sandra Hudson, to highlight the importance of sun protection.

“It’s all about education. I’d had the idea for a while and was passionate to get a book out there aimed at children. But then when I was having my treatment at the Bexley Wing – where I’ve been having treatment for 11 years – I bumped into Sandra who was a having treatment for terminal bowel cancer,” explains Jacqui.

“Sandra is a poet and she showed me poems she’d been writing while she was having her cancer treatment about being on the ward and having cancer. I said she should get them published . I then asked her if she’d be interested in helping me publish a book that would not only raise money for cancer patients but would educate children and families. But I didn’t want any mention of the ‘C’word.”

The pair teamed up to write the book and enlisted the help of illustrator Rob Gilroy. The book normalises hats, and sun cream alongside buckets and spades as three children go on an adventure in the sun.

“Just as we teach children to wash their hands after using the bathroom, or brush their teeth before bed, I feels sun protection should be an everyday measure,” says Jacqui. “It’s just about normalising the behaviour of wearing a hat, putting on sun cream, and so on, not scaring children. You wouldn’t send a child out into the snow without a coat, why would you send them out in the sun without adequate protection?”

Jacqui’s ambition is for her book to be widely available in schools, on aeroplanes, and in holiday parks to help foster a healthier relationship with the sun from an early age.

All money raised by sales of the book goes to the Jacqui’s Millions campaign. Since 2009 when he cancer returned, Jacqui has had three operations to remove the cancer on her leg, but it then travelled in her blood to her lungs, and in 2015 her right lung had to be removed. She’s suffered colitis as a result of chemo, and pneumocystis and almost lost her life. Jacqui has been treated at Leeds Cancer Centre for over a decade since she was diagnosed with stage four malignant melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer. Leeds Cancer Centre’s five-year survival rates for melanoma is significantly higher than average.

Funding from Leeds Hospitals Charity supported The Melanoma Research Group at Leeds Teaching Hospitals to undertake the biggest research survey of its kind in the world; 2,184 melanoma patients took part. It explored the role of inflammation, typically associated with obesity, diabetes, poor diet and little exercise on survival rates. This helps identify patients who could benefit from drugs, which lower the causes of inflammation and increase their chance of survival.

Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, professor of dermatology at Leeds Teaching Hospitals, said: “Our theory was that how we live influences immune responses. So, we’re now talking to patients more about their health; take regular exercise, don’t smoke or vape, take a healthy diet, low meat, high veggie, no sugar, try fermented food. And the good news is that modest amounts of dark chocolate constitutes fermented food. Don’t get sunburned, but avoid vitamin D deficiency.”

Despite being clinically vulnerable, the choreographer and dance teacher ran her ‘Jacqui’s Million Appeal’ raising funds throughout the pandemic. To date, she’s raised more than £258,000 for the Leeds Cancer Centre, which is part of Leeds Hospitals Charity, to provide specialist equipment, support research projects, and improve the ward environment for cancer patients

Dr Amir Khan, Ambassador at Leeds Hospitals Charity, said: “Jacqui is a remarkable force of positivity, and I have huge admiration for her work raising awareness and funds. More awareness is needed. Few people know for instance that skin cancer can develop in the mouth, nails and eyes. Like any cancer, it’s important to catch it as early as possible, but prevention is of course vital.

“It’s not just sunny days we need to worry about, but UV strength on cloudy days. We need to apply the right sun protection – UVA and UVB – with factor 50 for children, and to apply it throughout the day. A bottle of sun cream should last two days.”

To purchase a copy of Adventures in the Sun with Edi, Hassan and Chen, for £5, with all profits going to Jacqui’s Million, contact Jacqui directly on: [email protected]