“One minute I’m hanging at the beach with my friends - the next I’m under anaesthetic getting cancer sliced out of my back!”
It’s no wonder 15 year old Daniel’s view on life changed so dramatically in such a short space of time - 2 weeks after having a biopsy taken from a small mole on his shoulder blade, he was in the operating theatre for a wider excision to ensure all traces of the melanoma were removed.
“When you’re 15 you’re not really thinking about cancer. That’s what happens to other people…older people…people you see on TV documentaries. It won’t happen to me. It all happened so fast, it’s really only sinking in now.” These were Daniel’s words at the December launch of our 2012 summer awareness campaign.
In November 2010, Daniel’s father Gary thought that a small mole on Daniel’s shoulder blade had changed colour and should be checked. Daniel was 15, did not have any ‘risk factors’ for melanoma - he was not fair skinned and had no family history of melanoma and though his life centred on the beach (surfing and surf lifesaving for many years), he was always pretty good when it came to sun protection - there was no reason to suspect melanoma and his GP was not overly concerned.
However, in February 2011 his parents were concerned when Daniel said that it became quite itchy at times and revisited the GP with their concerns. The GP took a biopsy, which indicated a 0.4mm melanoma and 2 weeks later Daniel underwent a wider excision. The wider excision showed all melanoma cells had been removed in the biopsy and that there were no traces of melanoma remaining. This was great news and an incredible relief to his parents.
On seeing the Hunter Melanoma Foundation's 2011 awareness adverts, Daniel was prompted to contact Jenny Noblet (HMF Executive Officer) to tell her about his personal experience and to also offer his help in raising awareness, especially with young people. In 2011 Daniel told his story on two occasions at his high school and he also joined Jenny and HMF ambassador Jake Sylvester for a visit to St Josephs Charlestown where they were both well received.
As a HMF ambassador at the age of 16 Daniel hoped that teenagers would listen to his story and that it would make a difference to their attitude to sun safety and their perceptions on tanning once they knew that even 16 years could get this deadly disease.
Daniel’s story is a timely reminder for us all that melanoma is not an 'old persons' disease and that it is in fact one of the most common cancers of both young men and young women. As well as protecting their skin from sun damage and sunburn, teens need to be made aware of the importance of checking their skin for unusual lesions or moles, especially anything that changes in size or colour or becomes itchy, on a regular basis. Parents should also make a habit of checking their teen’s back regularly as one of the comments that Daniel made was “I couldn’t even see it, so I wasn’t too worried about it”.
Now 22 years old, an Australian Rugby Union 7's representative player living in Sydney and running his own fitness business, Daniel counts himself lucky to be alive and makes the most of every minute. He continues to love the beach lifestyle and surfs regularly but always "sunsafely" with sunscreen and rashie. He also continues to spread the word about melanoma prevention - especially to young people who tend to think they are bullet proof. "Parents, kids and teenagers really should be aware that just one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles their chance of developing melanoma later in life" Daniel said.