A message to all Australians from melanoma patient Stuart Taylor

A message to all Australians from melanoma patient Stuart Taylor

16 December 2020

Stuart Taylor has advanced melanoma which has progressed rapidly and is not responding to treatment. He has shared his story on ABC's 7:30. Report by Ella Archibald-Binge.

"I don't want to be sad, I want to celebrate my life. It's been an extraordinary life ... and to live 60, nearly 60, really good years I think is better than living to a very long age and not making the most of it."

Stuart hopes that by sharing his story, others may escape the same fate.

The environmental scientist is passionate about the outdoors. He and Heather travelled the country camping for two years. They lived on a sailing yacht for more than a decade. Stuart's work would often see him out on the water.

He says he was always sun safe. "I don't like getting burnt. I would lather on sunscreen, I'd have hats," he says.

Despite these precautions, Stuart noticed a tiny, flesh-coloured lump on his neck in 2015 on a small patch of skin above his collar but beneath the line of his sunscreen. It was about 4mm long. It wasn't black and it wasn't spreading, but Stuart had a bad feeling about it.

He says he had the lump examined by three different doctors, who thought it was a cyst. Then, in 2017, a fourth doctor agreed to remove it and discovered it to be melanoma.

Wife Heather recalls the moment they heard the news.

"It was shocking. It was just fall on the floor and try to breathe," she said.

Stuart was referred to the Melanoma Institute of Australia, the world's largest research and treatment centre with a single focus on what doctors call our "national cancer".

Professor Richard Scolyer, co-medical director at the institute, says Stuart's case is not uncommon.

"We still see patients who, despite doing everything that they've been asked to do, develop melanoma," he says.

"Classically it's a dark or brown, black tumour. But a proportion — about 10 per cent of melanomas — don't have pigment in them, so makes them more difficult to diagnose.

"If you're seeing something that's changing, that's new, it's very important to get it checked out, because if it's cut out early, that gives you the best chance of being cured from it."

For about two years after Stuart's initial surgeries, his follow up tests were clear.

Then, earlier this year, another lump was found and removed.

Stuart underwent immunotherapy, a ground-breaking treatment that leverages your immune system to destroy cancer cells, but last month the family received the news they had been dreading: the treatment wasn't working and the tumours had spread to Stuart's brain, lungs and bones.

"Ever since he started getting sick, we kept thinking he was going to get better. Then we realised he wasn't ever — he wasn't getting any better," says Heather.

Professor Georgina Long AO, co-medical director at the Melanoma Institute, says immunotherapy has tripled life expectancy for more than 50 per cent of advanced melanoma patients, but for some, like Stuart, the treatment is ineffective.

"That's where our area of research is right now, that resistant group," she says.

"It won't just change [outcomes] for melanoma, it will change [them] for all of cancer if we can solve that problem."

In Australia, one person is diagnosed with melanoma every 30 minutes, and one person dies from the disease every five hours.

The biggest risk factor is UV exposure leading to sunburn. If caught early, 90 per cent of melanomas can be cured with surgery alone.

Experts predict with better prevention, early detection and more research, Australia could eliminate melanoma-related deaths within a decade.

For Stuart, he and his family are taking each day as it comes.

"There are way too many people that die from melanoma in Australia. I'm dying before I get to 60 — that's wrong," he says.

"I would just dearly love to get the message out: be careful in the sun. If there's a lump, cut it out. And enjoy life — make the most of it.

"You never know how quickly it can come to an end."

Read the full article and watch the segment on ABC 7:30 here: ABC 7:30 Stuart Taylor's story

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