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Lived Experiences March 14, 2022

The first time the spot on my neck caught anybody’s attention was at a dads and kids school camp. One of the dads suggested the spot on the back of my neck looked suspicious.

I actually had a skin check coming up at work, so I asked them to look at it. They checked it out and suggested I go see a specialist and have it biopsied.

I went to a GP who took a biopsy but when the results came back the margins weren’t clear, so I had to have another larger biopsy. The same happened again, the margins weren’t clear.

The uncertainty was becoming concerning.

I was worried that cancer cells might be travelling around my body.

When they couldn’t get the clear boundaries after multiple attempts, my initial thoughts were, am I going to survive this, how will my wife and kids manage without me, are my finances and insurances adequate for my family to keep our home?

I decided to seek another opinion and requested a referral to a plastic surgeon. I was sent to a plastic surgeon who took an even greater section from my neck.

Again, there was still uncertainty about the results. By this time, I was getting really worried.

Finally, my case was recommended to the WA Kirkbride Melanoma Advisory Service (WAKMAS) which is at the Harry Perkins Institute of Medical Research. WAKMAS has a whole team of different specialists all looking at a patient’s case.

Having a multi-disciplinary team assess my case was so much more reassuring. They are a panel of specialists made up of pathologists, dermatologists, plastics surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists who jointly decide how to treat a particular melanoma condition.

The team approach is what patients receive in comprehensive cancer centres like the Peter Mac in Melbourne.

The WAKMAS team concluded that the cells in the biopsies were transitioning to the deadly skin cancer melanoma. I was given the option to wait and monitor and remove any as they popped up or remove a large area of skin.

I opted to remove it all which was good because tests found that there were a few different melanomas present. I’ve also been genetically tested and found to carry a gene that increases my likelihood of getting other cancers including kidney cancer.

This combination of specialists all looking at my case is so much better than just one GP trying to work out what they are looking at.

The biggest issue I have now is dealing with the scar tissue down my neck and back. It is causing a lot of muscle tension and headaches. Regular physiotherapy, some injections and potentially more surgery this year will hopefully release the tension.

I’ve had ups and downs like anybody, but I try and seek out opportunities to fill the cup up with positivity and try to keep things in perspective. I’m still here, I’m lucky and very mindful of those who are not. I consider myself lucky, I guess the ongoing tension and pain in the neck has some impact, but I try not to let it stop me from doing and achieving the things I want to do.