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.

Notice for Supporters to Submit to PBAC
26 Sep 2019

Notice for Supporters to Submit to PBAC

Comments in favour of giving patients with BRAF-positive melanoma access to first-line immunotherapy need to be submitted online prior to October 9, 2019.

Tune into Jay's Longest Melanoma March Channel 10 documentary
16 Sep 2019

Tune into Jay's Longest Melanoma March Channel 10 documentary

Jay's Longest Melanoma March documentary is screening this Sunday 22 September at 1pm (AEST) on Channel 10, capturing behind the scenes of the 2000km walk, Adelaide to Sydney in 50 days. Uniting to end melanoma.

Professor Georgina Long Co-Medical Director named Women of Influence in Australian Financial Review Top 100 List
11 Sep 2019

Professor Georgina Long Co -Medical Director named Women of Influence in AFR Top 100 List

We are proud to announce that our Professor Georgina Long Co -Medical Director Melanoma Institute Australia has been named in the Top 100 Financial Review 2019 Women of Influence.

Community Fundraising August Wrap-Up
04 Sep 2019

Community Fundraising August Wrap-Up

It’s been a month since we highlighted some of our incredibly generous community fundraisers. We thought we’d have a look back at August and put the spotlight on more of the wonderful people who give up their time to fundraise for MIA, so we can continue to edge closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.

From Lab Coats To Lycra - Australian Melanoma experts take on world Triathlon championships
02 Sep 2019

From Lab Coats To Lycra - Australian Melanoma experts take on world Triathlon championships

They are a formidable team - in work and in play  –  and one set to make history on both fronts.

Melanoma Institute Australia hosts first SunSafe Student Ambassador Program for 2019
30 Aug 2019

Melanoma Institute Australia hosts SunSafe Student Ambassador Programs 2019

This week, Melanoma Institute Australia hosted the first of six SunSafe Student Ambassador Programs for 2019.

Tags: SunSafe
Australia at risk of falling behind USA and Europe in preventing deadly recurrence of Melanoma
23 Aug 2019

Australia at risk of falling behind USA and Europe in preventing deadly recurrence of Melanoma

Federal government urged to provide certainty of access to immunotherapy for high risk melanoma patients.

Team Melanoma smashes City2Surf
16 Aug 2019

Team Melanoma smashes City2Surf

We want to thank every member of Team Melanoma and everyone who donated to them. With your help, we are moving closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma!

Ready to run over melanoma at City2Surf 2019
08 Aug 2019

Ready to run over melanoma at City2Surf 2019

Lauren O'Brien tells us why she's running for a cause close to her heart

Community Fundraising July Wrap-Up
01 Aug 2019

Community Fundraising July Wrap-Up

MIA could not do what we do without the incredible support and effort of our community fundraisers. We’d like to highlight some of the wonderful events organised by our community in the month of July that are helping us move closer to our goal of zero deaths from melanoma.

Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma
23 Jul 2019

Breast cancer drug may hold key to tackling most deadly type of melanoma

An international study, led by researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute and The University of Sydney as part of the Australian Melanoma Genome Project, has discovered that a drug traditionally used to treat a type of breast cancer may hold the key to treating an aggressive and deadly form of melanoma.

MIA takes centre stage at leading cancer conference
05 Jun 2019

MIA takes centre stage at leading cancer conference

Researchers from Melanoma Institute Australia took centre stage at the American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting in Chicago. Results presented by MIA’s contingent have the potential to create better patient outcomes and change the way advanced melanoma is treated .

International Clinical Trials Day 2019
20 May 2019

International Clinical Trials Day 2019

Today is International Clinical Trials Day – a day to recognise and thank the amazing people who conduct, organise, and coordinate clinical trials.

Emma Betts' legacy will live on
17 May 2019

Emma Betts' legacy will live on

“I’m the age Emma was when she passed away. It almost feels unfair, that she has to not be here for me to be able to do this. But I will use this opportunity to push as hard as I can to reach our collective goal of zero deaths from melanoma.”

Support PBS listing for three adjuvant treatments of resected Stage III melanoma
13 May 2019

Support PBS listing for three adjuvant treatments of resected Stage III melanoma

As always, part of the PBAC process invites clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community to make submissions in support of the PBS listing.

Support PBS listing for pembrolizumab
06 May 2019

Support PBS listing for pembrolizumab

As always, part of the PBAC process invites clinicians, patients and other stakeholders in the cancer community to make submissions in support of the PBS listing.

How are the Premier's Awards helping cancer researchers?
02 May 2019

How are the Premier's Awards helping cancer researchers?

MIA had four winners in the 2017 Premiers Awards. Find out how winning has influenced their work over the past year.

Cancer Council awards Melanoma Institute Australia researchers funding for ground-breaking cancer research projects
19 Mar 2019

Cancer Council awards Melanoma Institute Australia researchers funding for ground-breaking cancer research projects

Almost $9 million of new funding was awarded to 13 ground-breaking cancer research projects at the 2019 Cancer Council NSW Research Awards.

Making a difference to many
15 Mar 2019

Making a difference to many

Georgina V. Long is co-medical director of Melanoma Institute Australia and Chair of Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research. She is the first woman president of the Society for Melanoma Research.

Aussie icon Sophie Monk calls on Australians to get behind Melanoma March
26 Feb 2019

Aussie icon Sophie Monk calls on Australians to get behind Melanoma March

Quintessential Aussie girl and media personality Sophie Monk has been announced as a National Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) and its national awareness and fundraising campaign, Melanoma March.