- ‘My Experience’: Larry gives us the skinny on skin cancer
- More information on malignant skin melanoma
There a few things scarier than The Big C and, as far as cancers go, Australians seem to be particularly prone to copping it on the skin. While we love a sunburnt country, we are beginning to realise we do not like a sunburnt body. As Larry came to understand through his experience with melanoma, “slip slop slap” may save us from more than just a pink nose.
Larry the red nose reindeer
Life is hectic and checking for melanoma might not be top of your priorities at the moment, but after reading Larry’s story, you might want to get your partner, a mate or a Mum to check out your birthday suit.
Initially, Larry didn’t think anything of the brown mark on his chest. He never even had somebody check it out. It was only after Larry had experienced another, rather simple skin irritation that a doctor finally got an eyeful.
After a couple of business trips, Larry noticed an annoying red, bloody bump on his nose. Rather than look like Rudolf, he got a GP to check it out. It turned out to be basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that rarely metastasises and so is considered fairly harmless.
Larry was referred to a plastic surgeon to correct the Rudolf look, ironically just before Christmas. But when the surgeon had a look at the mark on Larry’s chest, he got a shock and told Larry he was looking at melanoma.
Another type of skin cancer that is not harmless at all.
Larry gets something ‘off his chest’
Larry said that when the surgeon told him, he “freaked out”.
“Internally, of course, but my psyche was going nuts. Typically it takes a while to sink in, but this really hit me straight away.
“Next thing I knew, I was waking up from the surgery.”
Larry’s plastic surgeon needed to cut the melanoma out of Larry’s chest and send it to pathology. The surgeon immediately called him at home to tell him it was melanoma, as he’d suspected.
While the plastic surgeon believed he had removed all of the melanoma, and he is considered to have a high survival rate, Larry decided he would go see an oncologist just to be safe.
Looking back, it was the best decision he ever made.
Highway to the danger zone
Larry was referred to an oncologist whose pleasant, lovely demeanour made both Larry and his wife feel calm and secure.
“It makes all the difference,” Larry says.
“However, the oncologist was concerned because he felt I was in a ‘grey zone’, meaning my chances were iffy.
“So he said ‘let’s get aggressive’ and attack it.”
The oncologist sent Larry to a melanoma specialist as well; getting a whole team on the case to ensure Larry was covered.
Larry had a series of tests, like PET scans and a sentinal node biopsy, to check out the rest of his body and to determine whether any cancer had spread. Luckily, Larry’s cancer hadn’t spread but, as Larry will tell you, he certainly wasn’t out of the woods.
“The oncologist had to open up the original cut and he went in much deeper this time around,” Larry says.
“The cut was very big, about 14 stitches long, in fact. He then sent that sample to pathology and they actually found more melanoma that was missed the first time.
“Fortunately, he removed more of it and hopefully he has now got it all – but with melanoma, you never know.
“I know a lot of medical specialists around the world, and the care in the Australian system is better, if not on par, with any care I could have received in Europe or the US.
“It’s comforting and important to know.”
Life, the universe and everything
Larry now says one of the biggest issues surrounding life after cancer is the quality of that life.
“That’s the key question: whether your quality of life is compromised,” he said.
“Fortunately I haven’t lost any. However, if people go on chemotherapy and it does affect the quality of life, then it is important to remain positive so you can enjoy the life you have.
“If you live life to the fullest and make the most of it, whether you’re healthy or sick, you won’t regret it.”
Larry continues to be free of cancer but monitors his health with PET scans and other important tests. He also continues to tell his children to cover up in the sun.
“Sometimes they even listen,” he says.
For more information on skin cancer, including risk factors, statistics, progression, diagnosis and treatment, see Malignant Skin Melanoma.
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