Melanoma Patients Australia Ambassador

It’s an honour to join the team at Melanoma Patients Australia (MPA) as an ambassador.

It’s been almost three years since I was diagnosed with early stage malignant melanoma. I haven’t spoken out about it much as to be honest, I didn’t really know how to deal with it myself. I found great comfort in the support I’ve received from MPA since my diagnosis, and as I’ve learned to deal with it all, I am now comfortable with talking about my experience in the hope that it will help others with awareness, sun-safety, early detection and show my support to the people fighting an advanced battle.

As an Aussie kid that grew up in the eighties, I spent every other day at the beach or in the pool at home or in the sun playing sports (you know, back when kids used to play outdoors!) Sunscreen was around and we knew it was important, but not quite as important as perhaps we should’ve. In my early twenties, I did a lot of swimsuit modelling, comps & shows for big brands like Love Kylie, Inside Sport, FHM etc…we were always expected to look tanned and bronzed…I very stupidly jumped on the solarium band-wagon and even worked in one for a while (wow how awesome, cooking myself for free!)

My best friend with beautiful fair skin was always against my tanning and encouraged me to get a skin check at aged 25 (my very first one!). I was fine and I did stop using solariums after about 2 years but I still didn’t really be as careful in the sun as I should have. Especially the 6 years I spent in the Whitsundays enjoying the sunny life! I didn’t have another skin check until I was 37. And that one was fine too. Six months later, when I moved to the Gold Coast, I made an appointment to see a skin specialist about a totally different matter. While I was there, he suggested a skin check, to which I initially politely declined, explaining I’d only had one six months prior. But he said, it’s free, why not? So I did. He found a suspicious spot on the back of my right thigh, so small you’d never really notice it. He took a biopsy and a few days later I was called back in for some news I never thought I’d hear: “you have malignant melanoma, the worst possible type of skin cancer, but the good news is, it’s early stage”. As the doctor started going through what it all meant and handing me booklets and brochures and forms, I was still not even really sure I what was going on. I always thought “melanoma” was a blanket term for all skin cancers, of which seemed so common and every second person had them - what’s the big deal, that kind of thing. I was so very wrong.

Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes). It represents only two per cent of all skin cancers, but causes 75 per cent of skin cancer deaths. If left untreated, melanoma can spread quickly to other organs and become life threatening in as little as six weeks. The main preventable cause of melanoma is overexposure to UV radiation. My pathology stated that mine was “unlikely to be from UV radiation and most likely a DNA mutation”, however I will never know for sure why I got it. I feel so guilty for my ignorance in my earlier years and hope that by speaking out, I can help anyone who has the same attitude towards the sun I used to have to be more careful.

I was luckily diagnosed in the very first stages, after surgery and a long, very rough physical recovery with complications, I had clear margins and was cancer-free! I am left with a huge ugly scar on the back of my leg and the anxiousness every three months when I visit my specialist. It’s changed my life, the way I live - especially outdoors - but it has also made me realise how very lucky I am and how, if I hadn’t had that skin check, things would have been very, very different.

Unfortunately, not everyone that is diagnosed is as lucky as me - it the most common cancer in young Australians (15–39-year-olds) responsible for up 20 per cent of all their cancer cases and kills more young Australians than any other single cancer. It is the third most common cancer overall in Australia (after breast and bowel cancer for women, and prostate and bowel cancer for men). Now known as our “National Cancer” on average, one person every five hours will die from melanoma in Australia. The good news is that if melanoma is identified at an early stage, simple treatment can result in a complete cure.

So get a skin check today - it could save your life!

I’m looking forward to working alongside MPA and am excited to host their 12th annual Gala Ball on Friday 25th October this year. Check out the event here

J x