Matt Vaughan, 37 years old, lives with his 7-year-old son Nixon in regional Victoria, is undergoing treatment for stage 4 melanoma in his L4 and L5 spine vertebrae at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne.
In 2019 he found a spot on the inside of his right leg, which was diagnosed as a stage 3 melanoma with lymph node invasion.
The diagnosis shocked him, and he went home feeling overwhelmed and unable to reconcile the results.
New data from the Victorian Cancer Registry shows a 34 per cent rise in melanoma levels in regional Victoria over the past ten years, motivating the rollout of a new SunSmart public awareness campaign, ‘Don’t delay. Save your skin.’
Heather Walker, head of SunSmart, said with such high rates of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, in regional Victoria, it is essential men are aware of the seriousness of skin cancer and the importance of early notification and intervention.
“In 2019, we saw nearly 300 deaths from melanoma in Victoria and alarmingly, twice as many men as women died from the disease,” Ms Walker said.
“The reality is that skin cancer can, and does, kill people.
“The most aggressive forms of melanoma can spread to vital organs like the brain and lungs quickly.
“Once it’s spread, the prognosis and treatment required can be devastating.”
Mr Vaughan explained the unexpected biopsy results shocked him and how he threw himself into discovering as much as he could about skin cancer.
“It was probably the worst thing I could’ve done because it wasn’t good news, and I completely broke down,” he said
After months of targeted therapy, immunotherapy and radiation, his treatment impacted the localised cancer cells, although at the cost of devastating side effects resulting in hospitalisation for colitis, an inflammation of the colon.
“With melanoma that has spread, there’s nothing simple about treating it,” he said.
“You hear the statistics of recovery and reoccurrence at each stage of treatment, and all you can do is hope that you’re on the right side of the numbers.
“I’m an optimistic person, and I draw inspiration from my son, but it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when you look at some of the statistics.”
Minister for Health, The Hon. Martin Foley said the Victorian Government’s involvement in the awareness campaign was only one part of a broader skin cancer strategy across the state, incorporating general practitioners’ upskilling, particularly outside urban areas.
“Our investment in early detection of skin cancer aims to both raise awareness amongst the public and better equip GPs at the frontline in diagnosing and triaging skin cancer presentations,” Mr Foley said.
“Educating GPs and providing the right equipment, particularly where access to dermatologists is limited, will ultimately help to save lives.”
Ms Walker said from mid-August to April each year, when the UV index climbs to three and above, it is most important to take precautions to reduce the risk of skin cancer.
“Use the [easy to remember] five forms of sun protection,” she said.
“Slip on clothing, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a broad-brim hat, Seek shade and Slide on sunnies.”
Mr Vaughan works as a drug and alcohol practitioner, assisting people in recovery.
His social consciousness and concern for others are why he chose to share his story.
“Not many people are aware of how quickly things can change and that a melanoma may not always show up where the skin has seen the sun,” he said.
“You need to know your skin and check all the nooks and crannies regularly.
“If you find something even the slightest bit concerning, don’t ignore it.
“Trust your gut and get it checked by your GP and ask for a referral if necessary.
“If it’s not skin cancer, well, then you can rest easy knowing it was well worth spending 15 minutes at an appointment being sure.”