A sunburnt youth... memories of an epidermis
Tony Richmond was born and bred in Newcastle but built his life in Port Macquarie where he moved when he was 24. Tony is 67 and literally owes his life to his Port Macquarie Skin Specialist having had 8 melanomas removed in the past 7 years.
"A simple skin check with my GP in 2011 led to the testing, diagnosis and removal of my first melanoma. In the six years since my skin specialist has removed seven more melanomas of varying depths. There have also been numerous spots removed surgically and tested that were squamous cell carcinomas (SCC’s) and I reckon about 100 basal cell carcinomas (BCC’s) burnt off over the years" Tony said.
With dark hair and dark eyes Tony did not think he was in the typical fair, or ginger-haired high risk category. He did, however have some freckles and two siblings that had also had melanomas removed which did increase his melanoma risk. It seemed the long, blistered days at Bar Beach and Merewether baths from around age five, and the ongoing sun-drenched lifestyle, is to blame for the melanomas. "We knew nothing of skin cancer or sunscreen as kids growing up in the 50s and 60s. Mum put some white zinc across our noses and on our lips and off we went into the water for 8 hours - coming back for food and drink occasionally. Even as a teenager surfing at local beach breaks, there was no sun protection. Surf all day and go out with a red glow that night - your sunburn was like a fashion trend worn like a badge of honour - it went with the wide collared shirts and the flares!" Tony recalled.
It is now known that having just one blistering sunburn as a child or adolescent more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma! It seems the skin remembers these sunburns. The UV radiation penetrates the skin and causes damage to the DNA in the cells of the epidermis. Tony’s memory is not as good as his skin’s memory, so he doesn’t remember specific sunburn events but he does recall the many locations where he might have caused that cell damage. Beginning life in Merewether - Bar Beach and Merewether baths are to blame for his oldest melanomas. Then with a move to Kahibah it was The Leggy, Dudley, Redhead and Blacksmiths beaches. Once in Port Macquarie it was surfing, riding jet skis and waterskiing at Lighthouse Beach, Point Plommer and on the Hastings River as well as long hours on the road running marathons, hobby farming and racing road bikes under the blazing summer sun - or on the deceptive cloud-covered days where the UV rays fried your skin minus the heat from the sun to remind you.
Tony is philosophical about the chances of finding more melanomas. "I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way and I‘ve changed my lifestyle accordingly. I avoid the sun in the hottest part of the day and if I do need to go out, I am covered with hat, long sleeves, sunglasses and of course 50+ sunscreen. I avoid long stints in the garden and run/walk/cycle early in the morning to avoid the sun" he said. "I’m sure my skin has a few more ‘memories’ that are yet to be revealed. My specialist and I are watching my skin very carefully. As much as I dread the thought of more surgery to remove more melanomas - I know I’m one of the lucky ones and each surgery has saved my life. I am very lucky to have a great team looking after my skin - I owe them my life."
December 1st marks the first day of summer and the Hunter Melanoma Foundation is reminding everyone that it’s time to do their quarterly self skin check - "change of season - check for change". Also a reminder that prevention is the best cure for melanoma - so over the summer months and beyond - use your melon and save your skin!