Lifestyle

A lifeline for kids struggling with their appearance: Meet the R.E.D. Squad

Changing how youngsters view sun safety and their skin

We tell little ones not to talk to talk to strangers, to look both ways when crossing the road, and to always says ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

Yet for some reason we forget to teach them about skincare and sun-safety.

We may slather on some lotion by the pool on holiday when they’re toddlers, but what happens when they’re sitting in gardens or even going to festival as pre-teens?

This is where the almighty R.E.D. Squad come to the rescue!

The brainchild of Maggie-May Hughes, who herself had skin cancer and underwent surgery in which she lost a portion of her top lip in addition to further facial scarring, this new comic book series is set to rewrite the narrative of how young people take care of themselves.

[Credit: Maggie-May Hughes]

Speaking exclusively to Uspire, Maggie-May spoke out on why she believes this education is crucial and what led to her journey in creating these awesome new characters.

Maggie-May said: “I found a tiny white bump sitting at the peak of my cupid’s bow on my top lip just eight weeks after my 30th birthday in August 2004.

“The bump slowly grew over the next few years and I saw a GP in March 2008. At first, it was dismissed as benign. Unfortunately, this meant the opportunity to refer me to a dermatologist was missed even though I had a medical history of teenage sunburn.”

At the time, Maggie-May was a mature student at UWE Bristol and a single parent of three teenagers, so it took a year to put the money aside and have the bump removed privately.

In May 2009, she eventually booked herself in. By this time, the bump had grown fairly rapidly and was encroaching on the border of her upper lip and distorting the cupid’s bow.

[Credit: R.E.D Squad /Facebook]

Maggie-May said: “The consultant must have been suspicious as they sent it away for examination; this was an additional service that I hadn’t paid for but thank goodness they took it upon themselves to investigate and find what was beneath the surface.

“By June, I got a phone call to say that my results had come back as nodular basal cell carcinoma, a skin cancer that needed to be surgically removed as soon as possible.

“To say I was blind-sided was an understatement! I didn’t even know it was being examined. At least it explained why the area wasn’t healing as it should.”

As a recently-divorced parent, and at the age of just 35, Maggie-May was devastated. Sadly, she also made a pact with herself to never kiss anyone ever again.

She said: “I was paranoid I would somehow pass on one of those sneaky skin cancer cells and as a result, one of the most difficult things for me to admit, is that I’ve never kissed my grandchildren.

“This breaks my heart but I couldn’t risk it; the psychological impact of skin cancer cuts deep.”

[Credit: R.E.D Squad /Facebook]

Following her surgery, Maggie-May learned that 90% of all skin cancers are preventable – including her own – providing people understand how to protect themselves.

This kickstarted her mission to stop history repeating itself and empower children to take care of their skin. Enter R.E.D. Squad centre stage.

Maggie-May said: “R.E.D stands for Radiation Exposure Defence and all of the characters travel the cosmos, educating alien life forms about sun safety. I needed something fun in my life and creating these stories during lockdown has really helped me to reclaim my confidence as I’ve channelled my focus in a new, positive direction.”

R.E.D Squad HQ is a digital, monthly, comic book aimed at 9 to 12-year-olds that contains puzzles, jokes, competitions, a science experiment to follow along with at home, and a whole page dedicated to UV ray and blue light damage awareness and prevention.

It also boats a 12-page anime style superhero featuring ‘R.E.D Squad’. All members of the squad, bar one, are redheads and carry a mutated gene called MC1R – the real-life receptor that plays an important part in regulating skin pigmentation.

The characters – including people from the UK, Nigeria, Philippines, Pakistan, Italy, Mexico and the US – are all purposefully from countries around the world with high incidences of skin cancer and/or sunburn to highlight that this issue is prevalent worldwide.

Maggie-May said: “I hope it will open up a previously non-existent line of communication that is so important for anyone struggling with their appearance.”

[Credit: Maggie-May Hughes]

When asked how she felt reflecting on her own experiences while creating the comics, Maggie-May said it made her feel sick just thinking about it.

She revealed: “I procrastinated for as long as I feasibly could but as soon as I began, my whole farce just kept getting funnier and I really can laugh about it now.

“It’s been a huge turning point for me. I recommend that everyone writes and explores their own personal journeys. I truly believe that things that happen to you, happen for you.

“Without this experience my life would never have changed and for that I’m incredibly grateful, my new job and sense of purpose is amazing.”

Alongside R.E.D Squad, Maggie-May is releasing her memoir named My New Face: I Can Laugh About It Now… during Skin Cancer Awareness Month in May.

She has also written BIG beauty LIES, a myth-busting book that plans to set the record straight and reclaim skincare. In particular, she is hoping to eradicate scaremongering.

Maggie-May added: “Statistics show that young people respond better to positive peers as opposed to negative messaging.

“Therefore, by creating something fun with a sun-safety message that’s communicated through characters they can relate to, we can better protect them.

“My messaging is not about cancer, instead it’s about learning why and how to protect your skin from not just the sun but blue light damage indoors too.”

While Maggie-May’s work is currently aimed at pre-teens, she hopes to reach an even younger audience by reimagining her characters through interactive apps, books and toys.

She concluded: “If I can inspire even one young person to embrace these characters and see them as role models for protecting their skin, then this mission will be a success.”

Not only is Maggie-May creating change with her squad, she is also proud to say that the series is 100% not-for-profit as all proceeds go to YP Face IT, an organisation that supports young people with conditions or injuries affecting their appearance.

To get your youngsters involved, click here: R.E.D Squad.

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