Opinion: Melanoma awareness, are youth proactive enough?

Image: www.specialistaustralia.com.au

Earlier this year the ABC released an article, one which would have slid right under the nose of most millennials… and two years ago it would have just as easily passed under my own.

The article by Sophie Scott revolved around melanoma research, including a possible breakthrough in the early detection and diagnosis of the wretched disease which saw 13,941 new cases in 2017.

There is good reason to why this particular article didn’t just pass me by in the abyss of information that bombards us on a daily basis… that reason will forever be etched into my memory, but possibly more importantly etched into the scar tissue of my right leg.

Post Surgery: 11 Stitches mark the spot that a melanoma was removed

My Story 

Late in 2016 at the age of 20, I noticed a freckle on the back of my calf while sitting in a university lecture. It wasn’t some dramatic light bulb moment, the freckle had aways been there, had always been dark, but on this afternoon it looked darker than usual… almost black.

A fortnight later after a few more nervous self-inspections, I decided it was time to man up and get it looked at. After a quick discussion with my mother (who has had skin cancer) I headed off to my local GP, armed with nothing other than some self assurance from my mother that ‘It’ll be nothing’ and ‘It’s better to be safe than sorry’.

The two months after that are fairly blurry. The things that sticks out vividly in my memory can be categorised as the three ‘hang on a second’ moments. The first came when my GP suggested that the freckle seemed a little odd, and that I should come back and see the clinic’s skin specialist. The second, perhaps slightly more concerning one came when the specialist began speaking about Melanoma on the ‘first date’. The third and final came about a fortnight later with the words… ‘your sample has come back as a melanoma… we have no idea how bad yet, but further tests are being done in Melbourne at the moment and we should have the results in a week… any questions?’.

The next month contained some real up and down moments. At 20, news of this nature really throws your life into a blender, ebbing and fro-ing between a mix of emotions and thoughts as life kind of happens around you. I can still picture mum’s face when I broke the news to her and the feeling of helplessness that we both didn’t know the full story yet, or how it was going to impact our lives. The gravity of the situation hit me when mum started talking about giving up her job to take me to treatments if we didn’t get positive news. We had to begin planning for, I guess, the worst case scenario.

I count my blessings that the news we received a week later was positive, and after a couple of minor surgeries on my leg to ensure that the area surrounding the melanoma known as the ‘margins’ were clean, I was given the all clear. 

January 2017 – Family photo at my 21st birthday, a month after the ‘all-clear’

Where Australia Stands 

Statistics from the Melanoma Institute Australia, show some damning figures for young Australians. I was blissfully unaware of the impact on youth until it hit me head on… and that was with a mother nagging me for as long as I can remember to be SunSmart and to get skin-checks. 

  • Melanoma is the most common cancer in young Australians (15–39 year olds) making up 20% of all their cancer cases.
  • More than 1,400 Australians died from melanoma in 2014. 
  • While 90% of people with melanoma are able to be cured by having the primary melanoma  removed through surgery, in the other 10% of cases, a life-threatening spread will have already occurred. 
  • The good news is that if melanoma is identified at an early stage, simple treatment can result in a complete cure.

Things have long changed since the days of Sid the Seagull and his catchy message of ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’. While the highly effective campaign still rings true today, do we really do enough to maintain our skin health, and actively prevent ourselves from harm?

Regular skin-checks are an easy and vital way for youth to begin healthy routines of understanding their bodies, helping them to notice any abnormalities. A parent or friend can easily help, while visits to a local GP or specialist are predominantly non-invasive and provide peace of mind when completed. Skin Check WA’s website has a full range of information on how to perform a skin check and what to look for.

“Cancer Council recommends all adults should check their skin and moles every 3 months. Those at risk should have a trained doctor examine them at least once a year. Melanomas can develop in between visits to your skin cancer doctor, therefore you should know how to check your own skin and moles.” – (Skin Check WA)

The article mentioned earlier by Sophie Scott also noted ‘positive signs’ in the development of a blood test to help detect cancerous melanoma cells, although skin-checks are still the preferred method of diagnosis.

Heading into what is predicted to be a long summer, I can only urge readers to be proactive with their skin, and if you haven’t already take the 5 minutes, get a skin-check done. 




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