Unfortunately, men are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than women, at 1 in 2 men. Bowel cancer, melanoma and lung cancer are three of the four most common cancers in both men and women, however, men are considerably more likely to be diagnosed and die from these cancers.
This month for world melanoma awareness month, Matt Kean, who is an Aussie living with stage four melanoma, shares his personal experience. Kean is a husband and father of two, and is spending his years traveling around Australia and bringing awareness to melanoma in schools, teaching children and teenagers what can be done to help reduce the impact.
Melanoma: the statistics
> Melanoma is the second most common cancer in Australian men (after prostate cancer).
> One Australian dies from melanoma every 6 hours.
> Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of melanoma in the world.
In October 2016 we were in the process of selling our house in Hobart as I had been successful in my application for a school principals’ position in Albury in Southern NSW.
I had some mates around to assist with a working bee in the backyard. While having a quiet beer later that afternoon with my mates I noticed a nasty black lump on my right thigh just above my knee. At that point in time, I thought that I had been bitten by something in the garden as I had never seen it before. At no point did I fear that this was anything sinister and I adopted an ‘it will be right’ attitude.
In early November, I went out on the boat with my father. I was wearing shorts at the time and he passed comment on the black lump on my leg. Once again I adopted the ”it will be right’ attitude and dismissed the inquiry from my father. As he quizzed me further, he had the look of disbelief that I had left it a month without seeing a doctor. I made an appointment to see the doctor the following day, the day that changed our lives forever.
The doctor took one look and made the decision that it should be cut out and sent off to pathology. At this point, I was still relatively blasé, but a just a little more concerned than I had been previously. I was to return to the doctor in afortnight to have the stitches removed, but received the phone call you don’t usually want to get early the following week that she would like to see me immediately.
Arrangements were made to see a plastic surgeon who would cut the wider margins to ensure that it hadn’t spread any further in and around my leg and a biopsy of the lymph nodes in my groin. Even though Ihad been diagnosed with melanoma I was still relatively calm as this sort of thing happens to others etc. Just prior to the operation we headed to Albury to do the handover at the school and look for a house to buy.
5 days after this operation I was once again called in to see the plastic surgeon and receive the news that we really didn’t want to hear, this became incredibly real – Stage 3 Melanoma, it had spread to the lymph nodes in my groin. In December of that year, I had the cancerous lymph nodes removed.
We made the move to Albury in July of 2017. I was now a patient at Peter Mac in Melbourne and travelled down for 3 monthly scans. In November of that year in a routine scan, the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes inside my pelvis, becoming Stage 4.
It’s incredibly hard to put into words what that initial feeling was like, both for the Stage 3 and Stage 4 results. It would be easy to say a feeling of disbelief, but it was so overwhelming. As a husband and a father of two young girls, it was hard to put the news into perspective. It wasn’t until a prognosis was put to us after the Stage 4 diagnosis that ‘ if the immunotherapy (treatment) works, you should get 8-10 years” did it feel real. The prospect that at very best I might see my 50th birthday was a bitter pill to swallow.
After my last diagnosis I went on a two-year immunotherapy trial, every three weeks I would receive the treatment. I finished this in December of 2019. Regular scans during and since the end of the treatment have indicated no spread of cancer. I now have 6 monthly scans.
Melanoma awareness has become a passion of mine, my mantra is ‘prevention is better than a cure’. My first message is to look after yourself in the sun, we have the highest rate of melanoma in the world. I love the outdoors, they are great for both my mental and physical wellbeing, but Iknow I need to be smart and follow the 5 sun safe rules when I’m out and about.
Secondly, listen to your body, I had a mark that I ignored. If you notice anything change on your skin see a doctor immediately, don’t be stupid and wait a month. Book in to get a regular skin check. These two actions may just save your life.
Thirdly, talk with your mates. My journey has been as much a mental battle as it has a physical one. Don’t be afraid to speak up and say you’re not travelling well and seek professional help if you need to.
If you are concerned about yourself or anyone else, please contact the Cancer Council Information and Support line on 13 11 20.