Recently I was excited to hear that the Australian pioneers in the field of melanoma, Professor Richard Scolyer and his research partner, Professor Georgina Long had been named joint recipients of Australian of The Year 2024. These doctors and their research have been responsible for saving the lives of thousands of Australians whose diagnoses of skin cancer would have once been fatal but are now largely curable. We live in a beautiful but harsh country and when I was growing up the dangers of the sun were largely unknown. Recently I had my own brush with deadly melanoma which has prompted me to urge you all to keep on top of your regular skin checks.
It had been about ten years since I had a skin check but during Covid I had a funny reaction to cosmetics which prompted me to visit the dermatologist again. This allergy may have saved my life. I really loved my new dermatologist. She not only cured my allergic reaction but tailored a plan to tackle a little rosacea which has long bothered me on my right cheek.
Since then, I’ve been religious with my annual check-ups and have used Efidux on a small spot on my arm. After having that rechecked in May my dermatologist performed a full body check. I asked about a small dark freckle on my upper right arm, but we weren’t too worried about it.
She urged me to make an appointment for six months time if I needed to double check a few things. I could always cancel if I felt I didn’t to see her. Neither of us were too worried. At this time my skin was given a glowing report card. She said, “Your skin is the some of the best I’ve seen for a very long time.”
Now I am of English and Irish descent with a peaches and cream complexion which is not ideal for the Australian climate. I grew up in the days when sun protection was a few streaks of zinc across my nose. I was also raised in a beachside suburb and although I am a bookworm who spent a lot of time indoors, I still played outside, walked everywhere with friends and spent countless hours on school ovals and sporting fields both as a student, teacher and Mum.
Heading back to see my doctor in December I laughed as I said, “I don’t even know why I’m here. Everything seems great.”
After chatting she offered to do another skin check as a precaution and said the little black freckle had changed. She thought it was nothing but wanted to do a biopsy just in case. She’d only ring if they discovered anything at the lab. Again, neither of us were worried.
You can imagine my surprise when the phone rang the next afternoon, and I was informed that the seemingly innocuous black freckle was a stage two melanoma. She wanted me back the very next day to cut it out before its little tentacles spread even further. If it had been stage three my lymph nodes would be under attack and then I’d be in real trouble.
I was surprised but pleased with the swiftness of her response… but not so happy when she said we’d have to cut around 10 cm extra on either side to make sure they got it all. It had to be done. My husband was interstate, so my lovely youngest son drove me to the appointment where the doctor excised the melanoma after numbing the spot with some local anaesthetic. There were a LOT of stitches – dissolvable stitches inside and several on the outside which I had to have taken out after a week.
Melanoma is the deadliest of all skin cancers. It can spread quickly and become life -threatening in as little as six weeks. If left untreated it can spread to other parts of the body. One Australian is diagnosed with melanoma every 30 minutes. We have the highest rates of melanoma in the world and one Australian dies every six hours due to melanoma. But … if caught early 90 percent of
melanomas can be cured.
My right arm was useless and very sore for weeks and the family have taken to calling me “Lefty”. By Christmas Day I had fairly good use of my arm and could thankfully pick up my granddaughter again, although it really ached and still does if I do too much. Sleeping was difficult for a while, especially if I rolled onto that side. I have to change the dressing every three days, but it is healing well. It will take six months to regain full use of my arm and I can do some light exercise now if my arm is taped.
I’ll need to be checked every four months, but I am happy to do so. I feel grateful and relieved that it was caught so early. The best thing is that it has prompted so many of my friends and family to have a skin check too. If you see anything on your skin that you are worried about have it checked by your GP, local skin clinic, a dermatologist or skin specialist. Early detection is key which is something I’m very happy about. As our long hot summer rolls on remember to slip, slop, slap but also seek shade and slide on sunglasses. The life you save from this silent serial killer may be your own.
Freelance writer, wife and mother of three sons, occasional supply teacher and aspiring romance author, Michelle Beesley can be most often found in a coffee shop chatting with friends or beside a rugby field cheering on her favourite teams.
Michelle is a prolific—albeit reluctant—traveller, keen walker, bookworm and yoga enthusiast who loves anything pink or sparkly (including champagne!).