by REBECCA OBORN
Growing up as a ginger kid in South Australia meant I was never one to deliberately spend time in the sun trying to get a tan. Every red head knows there’s no point in trying to turn our white skin brown!
I did however spend almost every weekend outside playing with friends which meant a lot of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation throughout my childhood.
Along with my fair skin came a lot of freckles and even more moles. One mole on my back changed dramatically when I was 21 so after a few weeks of putting it off, I finally had it checked by my GP.
My GP had it removed and biopsied, but he told me that because I was young it was probably nothing to worry about so I was shocked when the results from the biopsy showed that the mole was a malignant melanoma. I was then told I had a 50% chance of survival and would need surgery straight away.
The shock of it was incredible; I was fed so much information that day that hardly any of went in… that stat about 50% survival did. It just kept playing over and over in mind. ‘But I feel fine’ I kept thinking, ‘but I’m not old yet’ was another.
After the surgery, I received good news that they had successfully removed the tumour. I was left with a 10cm scar and as part of my recovery I had to be extra cautious about checking myself and staying out of the sun.
After six months I noticed another change in the moles in that area which meant another biopsy. The results were bad. The cancer had returned in two different spots.
Before the second surgery, there had to be MRIs and other tests to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread to my brain or anywhere else in my body. The results showed that the cancer had only spread to the surrounding lymph nodes and no further. I was booked into the hospital straight away so the doctors could remove the lymph nodes to prevent the cancer spreading.
The surgery was 4 hours long and I was initially told that they would use a skin graft to cover the area of flesh containing the tumours that had to be cut from my back. It turned out that the area was too large for a graft and a skin flap had to be cut from the remaining flesh on my back that could be stretched and pulled to cover up the hole! It took them 1 and half hours to sew me up!
My recovery took around 6 months before my body and life got back to normal. The skin was pulled so tight that I couldn’t lift my arms until the skin stretched back. I spent weeks in bed unable to walk around or do day to day things without feeling massive amounts of pain. Slowly as the skin stretched back, I began to recover. Once back to normal the realisation of how fortunate I was to have survived really sunk in.
I am now so lucky and grateful that I got my skin checked as early as I did. My doctor later told me the cancer would have killed me within 3 months had I not been treated when I was.
Getting checked is just one of seven simple ways of reducing your risk of cancer. Do something to cut your cancer risk and take Cancer Council Victoria’s quiz to identify those small lifestyle changes you can make to prevent cancer. Find our more at cutyourcancerrisk.org.au.