I just thought I had a funny streak on my nail – but the truth was much worse

WE use our hands all day, every day, meaning there are times we get little cuts and even bruises on them.

But when flute player Elizabeth Misselbrook noticed a funny streak on her nail, she knew something wasn’t right.

The 40-year-old had previously been scrolling through Facebook and had seen warnings that a mark like hers could be down to skin cancer.

She immediately made an appointment and was shocked when months later, she had to have her finger amputated in order to get rid of a rare form of cancer.

The mum first noticed the streak in September 2019 and her GP referred her to a dermatologist.

They initially said she shouldn’t be concerned and that she should return in three months to have it checked.

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But the line started to change and grow – forcing medics to remove the nail and perform a biopsy.

Elizabeth said: "I was worried because I have a doctor friend and she put something on Facebook about a line on your nail being a sign of something.

"I wasn't overly worried, but enough to make a GP appointment. I didn't wait. It didn't itch, it was just a faint, light brown line.

"It takes time because it's not a quick 'whip that off and have a look' and nails do get funny marks, but it was changing and I did have a feeling."

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In December 2020, the nail had grown back, but it still wasn't right.

"I noticed another line so I went back to the GP and kept an eye on it again. It was changing a lot," said Elizabeth.

"The dermatologist said it was suspicious and it'd need to be biopsied again. It was much wider and darker and I was getting worried.

"It had pigment that had gone onto the skin at the base of the nail so I was a lot more concerned because it had more sinister features.

"So, in May 2021 they said it's melanoma, stage 1A, meaning it's invasive but not hugely."

Elizabeth was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer known as acral lentiginous subungual melanoma.

She is now urging others to look out for the signs, as she awaits a prosthetic finger so she can play the flute again.

Elizabeth, from Bracknell, Berkshire, said: "Because I'd had two melanomas which had been fully removed, they wanted to make sure it didn't reoccur so they amputated it before the first joint.

What is melanoma skin cancer?

Melanocytes are cells in the skin that give us the colour of our skin because they produce a pigment, known as melanin.

When you sit in the sun, melanocytes produce more pigment (a sun tan), which spreads to other skin cells to protect them from the sun’s rays.

But melanocytes are also where cancer starts.

Too much UV causes sunburn, and this is a sign of damage to the skin’s DNA. 

The UV triggers changes in the melanocytes, which makes the genetic material become faulty and cause abnormal cell growth.

People who burn easily are more at risk of skin cancer because their cells do not produce as much pigment to protect their skin.

Those with albinism are at the most risk because their skin produces no pigment at all.

Cancer Research UK says: “People with darker skins can still get melanoma but they have more natural protection against it.

“It's rare for black people in the UK to get melanoma. If African or Asian people do get melanoma, it's most often a type of melanoma that develops on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands (acral lentiginous melanoma). This type of melanoma can also grow under the nail.”

What are the signs of melanoma in your nail?

  • a dark streak
  • dark skin next to your nail
  • nail lifting from your fingers or toes
  • nail splitting
  • bump or nodule on your nail

"I was upset when they said they had to amputate but I was really worried that I'd had two melanomas, so I kind of wanted them to make sure it didn't come back.

"I was resigned to it. I hadn't felt unwell at any point and I hadn't had drug treatment so I felt grateful. I didn't want to get ill.

"I was worried about the long-term consequences like handwriting and playing the flute. I wanted to play the flute, but I want to live more."

Elizabeth is now cancer free and said she it has taken time to come to terms with her diagnosis: "When they told me it was melanoma, I wasn't surprised but it was a shock.

"It was on my left hand and I'm left-handed and play the flute.

"The whole way along I never felt I was going to die because the surgeon was very reassuring that it was cancer but it was very treatable, as it was diagnosed early.

"I was trying to stay calm and thinking, 'It is what it is, I've got to deal with it and it's not nice'.

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"A lot of people struggle a lot more than I have and they find it really hard.

"Check your nails for anything suspicious that doesn't grow out; a bruise will grow out."

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