"What's that mark on your arm?"

"What's that mark on your arm?"

By Tony Simms

16 April 2016

It was a standard doctor’s appointment. My GP had checked my blood pressure and was taking a second reading when he asked me “What’s that mark on your arm?”. I said it was a tiny mole that I had always had; less than half the size of my pinky’s fingernail .

“I wouldn’t mind taking a closer look at that”.

So he puts an eye glass on my arm and says “The corner of it looks a bit dark. Just to be sure, I’d like to biopsy that. If it comes back negative, I’ll apologise for taking some tissue. I just want to make sure.”

To be honest, both my wife and my son had said that I should go and get it checked but like a lot of people I had just not got around to it. It is part denial that anything could be wrong and part fear that it could be something more serious.

There was always something more important that needed doing than a simple skin check.

Only 24 hours later, my GP called me. “It’s a melanoma.” My heart raced at the sound of the word and I half convinced myself that I heard incorrectly. You mean I DON’T have a melanoma, I asked. “Tony, you DO have a melanoma. Can you jump in the car right away and come and see me.  I want to go through the results. I believe it’s in the early stages. We need to talk about immediate treatment. I’ll see you soon.”

I was trembling as I told my wife and my mind was racing. I don’t remember driving to the surgery. We walked straight into his room and his first words were “Don’t worry. It’s in the early stages. I believe it can be treated and solved. If you had left it much longer, we would be having a very different conversation. Now let’s go through it.”

He drew charts showing the different stages; even a diagram showing the surgery that would take place. “I’m going to give you a referral to the best melanoma treatment centre in the country – Melanoma Institute Australia. Stay calm. You’ll get through this.”

Two days later I walked into Melanoma Institute Australia and found an environment that took me by surprise. It was happy, encouraging and soothing and I immediately felt settled. I agreed to be part of a program where they would use blood and tissue samples for further research, known as the BioSpecimen Bank.

Then the surgeon saw me. His first words were: “Your GP has eagle-eyes. Many would have missed such a small melanoma. It is in the very early stages and here is how I am going to solve it for you.” More diagrams and charts drawn then: “I will do the surgery now. It will take about 40 minutes. Are you ready?” Now!!? I said. I need not have worried as it was straightforward under a local anaesthetic.

After the wait for pathology results, he wanted a second surgery to give an even wider margin. This was soon done, more pathology and soon after he gave me the all-clear. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and I felt like I had been given a second chance at life.

It felt I had been given a real gift and I had better use the rest of my life to somehow make a difference.

From this point on, I have been encouraging people to go and get their skin checked. Face to face conversations, phone calls, emails, posts on social media and articles; even chats at cafes and bus stops. I have had so many people contact me (known and unknown) to thank me for challenging them as it has saved their life or the life of someone they knew.

I also found that my circumstances were very fortunate as others had faced major battles. Some battles were won whilst others were not.

Each day my fortunate circumstances reminds me that as a melanoma patient, I have been given a unique opportunity and responsibility to tell my story. I also encourage each person I contact to pass the message onto others to get their skin checked too.

Each of us through this life-changing experience has the undeniable opportunity to help save the lives of so many people.

Behind my scar is a story that needs to be told.  

Please join me in telling others your story.