All Aussies should have access to this lifesaver

All Aussies should have access to this lifesaver

*This article was originally published in The Daily Telegraph*

I originally thought the melanoma on my knee was a blood-blister.

My doctor didn’t flag any great cause for concern, but I just hated the look of it.

I consulted a plastic surgeon to remove the shiny red patch and they submitted a sample to be tested for skin cancer. It took them a while to come back with a definitive diagnosis, then I got the devastating news — it was melanoma. I had surgery to remove the tumour but it was too late, the cancer had already spread across multiple lymph nodes.

I was rattled. As a mother of two children who were just 11 and 13 years old at the time, this was hard news to digest. Melanoma takes the lives of 1800 Australians each year and, all of a sudden, I was at risk of becoming one of them.

The week I was diagnosed, my family and I watched a 60 Minutes segment about a women younger than myself who passed away from an aggressive melanoma tumour. Growing up in Australia, we are inundated with so many stories like these — after all, melanoma is our “national cancer.” I’d heard so much about the worst-case scenario for melanoma patients, that my outlook on my diagnosis was incredibly grim.

Melanoma survivor Carrie Palmer and her kids.

Until I was diagnosed with melanoma, I never thought about how patients access the treatments for cancer. Now that I’ve been full circle, I want all Australians to be able to access new options for treatment. We must also celebrate the game-changing researchers that are helping to save lives.

I had surgery to remove my tumour and multiple lymph nodes, but even though it was successful, there was still a huge risk that the cancer would progress to Stage IV melanoma. Once the cancer reaches this stage it means it has spread to the other organs like your lungs, brain or liver.

I was hopeful I would be eligible to participate in a clinical trial to try to prevent my cancer progressing to Stage IV. My doctor quickly referred me to Professor Georgina Long, Co-Medical Director at Melanoma Institute Australia. Professor Long was helping to pave a new way for tackling cancer.

I remember feeling overwhelmed and intimidated going into my first meeting with Professor Long. I was so worried that a clinical trial would make me feel like a guinea pig. However, once she began explaining her work, it revealed a side of melanoma I had never heard about.

Immunotherapy helped Jarryd Roughead survive melanoma, and get back to doing what he does best, playing footy. Picture: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Professor Long and her colleagues are leading the world in melanoma research. Their groundbreaking work is completely transforming the way melanoma — and cancer more broadly — is diagnosed and treated worldwide. New treatments are tripling the life expectancy of some advanced melanoma patients and researchers are learning more every day about how they can be used to treat patients with other cancers.

I was put on a clinical trial for one of these new, revolutionary treatments. The medication I took was an immunotherapy, which activates my own immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. The reality is that the development of treatments, like immunotherapy, means we are moving toward melanoma no longer being a possible death sentence, but rather a treatable, chronic condition.

Access to these new treatments for melanoma in Australia is constantly evolving and growing. So many Australians have already been treated with these therapies in recent years, including AFL player Jarryd Roughead. I was lucky enough to have had the opportunity to go on a clinical trial. Continuing to improve and accelerate this is absolutely crucial to making sure all Australians diagnosed with melanoma can access these treatments — not only those on clinical trials.

RELATED: Jarryd Roughead owes his life to immunotherapy

Professor Georgina Long and her colleagues at Melanoma Institute Australia are changing the way the world treats melanoma. Picture Cameron Richardson

However, participating in the trial has given me hope and made me feel a part of something bigger. It’s shown me that, while my own cancer journey has been challenging, I have in some way contributed to helping cancer patients all over the world. My scans will be analysed over the next ten years as Professor Long looks at the long-term outcomes of the immunotherapy I have been treated with.

Through this type of research, Professor Long believes we can achieve zero deaths from melanoma within a generation.

But I’ve realised that to achieve this goal, we all need to support our local researchers. We should strive to know more about the revolutionary, homegrown research taking place in our own backyard — and ensure access to these treatments. While melanoma is our “national cancer” with a higher incidence rate in Australia and New Zealand than anywhere else in the world, we are also leading the way in combating the disease through incredible science, research and access.

Professor Long recently received the prestigious GSK Award for Research Excellence along with her Co-Medical Director of Melanoma Institute Australia Professor Richard Scolyer. It comes with an $80,000 grant that will go straight into funding ongoing research — like the very study I am in. I think there should be more opportunities like this to recognise the work being done by Australian researchers.

I wish that I had known about this remarkable new research into melanoma treatment when I was first diagnosed. If we take the time to learn about, support and celebrate these amazing researchers we can give hope to the 14,000 Australians diagnosed with melanoma each year.

Dr James Wilmott wins 2020 Wildfire Highly Cited Publication Award
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Tags: melanoma
MIA researchers feature on prestigious Highly Cited Researchers 2020 List
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MIA researchers feature on prestigious Highly Cited Researchers 2020 List

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RCPA recognition for Professor Richard Scolyer.
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RCPA recognition for Professor Richard Scolyer.

Professor Richard Scolyer receives The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia Distinguished Fellow Award.

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Professor Georgina Long hands on baton of SMR Presidency

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City2Surf 2020
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City2Surf 2020

Join in the fun of the virtual event, and together we can run over melanoma!

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Top melanoma experts from MIA

Melanoma Institute Australia features prominently in the latest ‘Expertise in Melanoma’ world rankings, released by Expertscape.

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Melanoma Supportive Care Needs research study. 
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Melanoma Supportive Care Needs research study. 

Participate in our online survey and help us understand the support needs of melanoma patients and carers.

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New data reveals long-term benefit of adjuvant therapy for Stage III melanoma.
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New data reveals long-term benefit of adjuvant therapy for Stage III melanoma.

Updated results published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
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New online melanoma risk calculators critical to saving lives
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New online melanoma risk calculators critical to saving lives

Clinicians and their patients now have access to three online risk calculators developed by researchers at Melanoma Institute Australia.

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Professor Richard Scolyer receives University of Sydney Alumni Award.
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Professor Richard Scolyer receives University of Sydney Alumni Award.

MIA's Co-Medical Director Professor Richard Scolyer has received The University of Sydney Alumni Award for International Achievement.

Tags: melanoma
Uniting together despite the distance
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More than 120 MIA clinicians, researchers and staff came together online to share research highlights.

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Professor Richard Scolyer recognised in The Pathologist's 2020 Power List.
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Professor Richard Scolyer recognised in The Pathologist's 2020 Power List.

For the 2nd consecutive year, MIA's Co-Medical Director Professor Richard Scolyer has been selected in the top 100 best, brightest, and most powerful advocates of pathology by The Pathologist.

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Important Update: Masks required at Poche Centre
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As of Monday 27th July all patients and carers/family members coming into The Poche Centre will be required to bring their own mask. 

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A Critical Nexus:The Clinician and the Researcher.
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A Critical Nexus:The Clinician and the Researcher.

In a recent issue of Cancer Cell journal, Prof Georgina Long AO and Prof Richard Scolyer discuss the challenge of bringing together clinical work and scientific research to underpin successful cancer research.    

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New online calculator launched to determine risk of spread of melanoma

Clinicians around the world now have access to a new online calculator that predicts the risk that a patient’s primary melanoma has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

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Queen's Birthday Honour for Professor Georgina Long
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Queen's Birthday Honour for Professor Georgina Long

Professor Long has been appointed as an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia (General Division) for  distinguished service to medicine, particularly, to melanoma clinical and translational research, and to professional medical societies. 

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Danny's inspiring survival story
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MIA in the spotlight at ASCO virtual conference

‘We are extremely proud of our ongoing contribution to the global effort to save lives from melanoma, with Dr Silva’s prestigious award proof that we continue to lead the way,'

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Professor Richard Scolyer achieves h-index of 100
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MIA's Co-Medical Director, Professor Richard Scolyer, has achieved a Google Scholar h-index of 100.