Con’s story: Melanoma is an insidious disease that moves very fast
Around 18 months ago I had a standard mole check done. As a result, one small lesion was removed from my back, which was found to be benign. Last year I visited my GP for a separate issue and within seconds of removing my shirt, my GP zeroed in on a spot on my chest. I had no idea the spot was there before my GP pointed it out and thanks to his attentiveness, the spot was detected early.
The next morning, the spot was removed by my GP under local anaesthetic. Test results that came in a week later showed it was malignant melanoma. My mole check 18 months ago had been photographed so my GP was able to see that while the spot was there for the first check, it was not deemed to be threatening. The mole transformed from a harmless lesion to malignant melanoma very fast, and I’m very lucky my GP picked up on it.
My GP removed the spot the day after detection in a painless 15 minute procedure. After the test results showed that it was malignant, my GP rang around and found a surgeon who could operate on me as soon as possible. The specialist managed to squeeze me in before his flight to Wellington for the Melanoma New Zealand skin check at Parliament and removed the surrounding tissue. I had the choice to have the procedure done under general anaesthetic at a later date or local anaesthetic then and there. I chose local anaesthetic to get it done as soon as possible.
Frequent checks are the most critical part of early detection and diagnosis. Early detection saves lives. Skin checks should be done at least yearly. “Slip, slop, slap and wrap” isn’t enough. The messaging around sun smart campaigns needs to change to promote urgency.
Age is irrelevant when it comes to melanoma. Mums and dads should be getting regular skin checks with their kids so that checks become the norm. Changing the culture around melanoma risk should be a hugely important program. All GPs should be trained to the point where they can pick up on melanoma risks as fast as mine was able to.
In Australia, all kids must wear hats at school if they’re outside. We need to ignore cries of “nanny-statism” and introduce similar rules here.
I feel like I’ve been given a get out of jail free card. Cancer treatment is competitive and I was very fortunate to be able to use the private system. I’ve been in the medical business for over 20 years and this experience has really pushed me to help the cause. I now find myself thinking about spots on myself and my loved ones a lot more. Everyone in my family now has regular skin checks.
I have always enjoyed boating, sailing, and jet skiing and have to admit that sometimes I may not have been the best sunscreen user. Being in and on the water is a huge part of New Zealand’s culture and it is so important that people realise how much of a risk exposure to the sun can be.