Tell us who you are, what you do and where you’re from.
I was born in Melbourne, Australia and have been there ever since. I’m the Managing Director of a creative agency. As a side hustle, I have a hospitality venue.
What was your attitude to sun protection when you were younger?
I always burnt quite easily so I was reasonably good at putting on sunscreen, however when the tanning desire kicked in, I would often find myself going as long as I could without it. I certainly wouldn’t apply sunscreen daily.
How did you discover your skin cancer and how long ago?
In July 2020, I noticed a tiny lump growing in my ear lobe. I was aware of it, but couldn’t work out what it was. My concern would oscillate between curiosity and ignorance. Eventually the lump became visible at the bottom of my earlobe and this began to raise an air of concern.
In January of 2021, my friend noticed the lump and suggested that I should see a specialist, as it was reminisce of a cancer she had seen online. That night I didn’t sleep and I could feel the lump swelling. I booked myself in with a skin cancer specialist who was intrigued by the strange blister looking lump. He removed it and sent it off for a biopsy. I quickly forgot about the lump, grateful that it appeared done. Five days later, I was taking my shirt off to dive into the sea when the doctor called. I took the call, and immediately he said, ‘you have a level 4 melanoma’ to which I replied ‘you are joking aren’t you’ and he said ‘no I don’t joke about these things’. Within 24 hours I was walking into the Oncology ward at the Cabrini hospital.
How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I was suddenly hit with sheer and utter shock. One minute, I thought everything was fine, the next I was scared. The fear of not knowing if you’re ok can leave you feeling empty and lost. I recounted skin cancer anecdotes, where the endings weren’t good.
What were your treatment options? What did you decide on and why?
I didn’t really feel I had many choices. I simply met my oncologist who talked me through the biopsy report and the steps ahead. Because the melanoma was on my ear, there was an obvious choice to work with a plastic surgeon. The next day I met with the plastic surgeon who explained that he needed to remove a 2cm circumference around the lump.
What was surgery like?
The day of surgery will be hard to forget. I remember sitting at the kitchen bench and becoming overwhelmed with what was ahead. I won’t lie, some tears came to my eyes! My partner took me into the hospital and soon enough I was forced to say goodbye. I was wheeled from room to room for various tests. To locate the lymphatic node, where the ear’s blood flows to, I was injected a few times in the ear with radiation and scanned. I waited anxiously in a hospital bed outside of surgery until somebody came to collect me. I was lucky to have a quick chat to the surgeon before heading in, which was comforting.
What was post-surgery like?
Waking up was relieving. I was still enjoying the comfort of the anaesthetics and knowing the surgery was over. In speaking to the plastic surgeon he explained that he was able to take skin from the front and back of the ear and create a flap and bend that into a new ear lobe. When the anaesthetic wore off, the pain was intense. I had a 3cm deep incision on my neck for the removal of the lymph node and of course a head heavily bandaged to cover my ear and surrounding areas.
A week later I saw the surgeon who shared the positive news immediately that I’m in the clear and the cancer didn’t spread, and undressed the bandages to find a recovering ear. He explained there was 50 stitches in the ear alone. I took two months until I was able to sleep on my left side again!
What is your attitude towards sun protection today?
Following this episode, I’m far more wary of the effects of sun. I’ll try to wear a sunscreen daily to avoid the continual exposure to the sun that we all receive.
What are your best sun protection tips?
I would recommend becoming aware of our extremities, such as ears, arms, hands, feet and toes. They do see more sun than the clothed parts and applying a sunscreen or covering them will avoid the risk of enduring what I had to.
What would you tell your 16-year-old self about taking care of your skin and sun protection?
Don’t get burnt and care less about being tanned!
What would you tell other men who aren’t too concerned with sun safety and skin protection, especially young men?
Having brown skin or taking the time to protect yourself isn’t worth dying for or having to go through the discomfort of skin cancer. Be wise!