Mike's Story

Mike's Story

2 February 2015

In June 1978, 27-year-old Mike was enjoying life with wife Val and young family, Matt – aged five – and Nicole – aged one. His career in banking with the Commonwealth Bank was starting to take off, having received his first major promotion in October 1976.

However, life was about to change. A chance examination by Val of a mole on Mike’s back as he got out of the shower caused her concern. The mole, which had always been there, was bleeding and Val thought “it didn’t look normal”.

Succumbing to Val’s pleas to have it checked out, Mike made an appointment with Val’s GP. The GP took one look at the mole and said it had to be removed immediately for pathology examination. Pathology quickly confirmed that it was malignant melanoma. Fortunately, the GP referred Mike to Professor Gerald Milton, head and founder of the Sydney Melanoma Unit (the predecessor of MIA).

Within a week, Mike and Val were sitting in Professor Milton’s rooms at The University of Sydney discussing what comes next. Surgery was the option recommended because of Mike’s age and his young family. It all seemed fairly straight forward and that would be that.

The only inkling Mike had that perhaps the procedure wouldn’t be so straight forward was the mention prior to being wheeled into surgery that he was going to have a “fairly large” operation. He woke from the surgery to find himself bandaged from the shoulders to almost the waist with surgical drains stitched into both sides of his torso.

Mike had had a bi-lateral excision of the lymph glands from the armpits and an excision stretching from one shoulder to the other necessitating a large skin graft taken from his thigh. Fortunately, other tests while in hospital confirmed that the disease had not spread to the major organs.

Mike, thought well that’s that… Then came the bad news. Because the melanoma had penetrated to a depth exceeding 3mm, chemotherapy was prescribed to reduce the risk of recurrence. So in August 1978, a monthly cycle of chemotherapy commenced. It involved intravenous drugs each day for a week. Blood tests followed each cycle the week prior to commencement of the next cycle to ensure Mike’s system could tolerate continuing treatment.  Side effects were severe nausea, particularly on day one of each cycle and general lethargy. Mike endured every cycle and his treatment concluded in June 1980, some 23 months later.

Mike continued under Professor Milton’s care with regular consults which relied on external physical examinations because there was no scanning technology available at the time.

In July 2015, Mike will celebrate his 65th birthday and has had no recurrence of melanoma. He has four grandchildren and retired from the Commonwealth Bank in 2005 in an Executive position.

Mike has decided to give back to the Institute that saved his life and is now one of our regular volunteers.

Oh for the Good Ol' Days

By Mike Hilder

How often have we heard someone express the sentiment, “Oh for the Good Ol’ Days”.

Well, I certainly don’t yearn for those days when it comes to living and dealing with melanoma.

My brush with melanoma was almost 37 years ago. In 1978, colour TV was barely 3 years old in Australia and mobile phones were unheard of. Computers and associated technology was in its infancy. Consequently, the use of sophisticated technology in the field of medicine had some way to go.  

My treatment for melanoma was surgically very invasive and the follow-up chemotherapy very physically debilitating.

Information sharing between doctors and patients seemed to be very much on a “needs to know” basis. I didn’t know what platelets were but I knew that was one of the things they checked in each blood test during my chemo treatment.  I couldn’t Google it. So I wondered why I was bruising so easily all of the time. I had only finished playing rugby league 12 months prior to my diagnosis and endured some heavy knocks without the same degree of bruising.

Because my chemo went for so long, 23 months, it was a huge psychological effort each month to continue. Many times I decided I had had enough, I’m not doing this anymore. The thought of dying never crossed my mind. But I thought of my young wife and family, and knew that it was my responsibility to keep going. As the eldest of 6 children, my father taught me from a very young age about responsibility and how he always expected more from me because I was the eldest.

Even though my wife was always there to support me and make those periods of treatment bearable, I felt I was the only one this is happening to. I felt isolated and alone. Not so much frightened but alone. How could anyone know what I was going through? There were no melanoma patient support groups back then.

But I did make it! Obviously I carry the physical scars now, it looks a bit like a shark bite and I’ve even told some people that’s what it is! But psychologically it was tough, although time has fortunately erased those scars.

As soon as I found out about the Melanoma Patient Support group and the tremendous work Jay Allen from MIA does in this area, I decided to become a part of it.  I wanted to support people going through tough times because I knew exactly how they felt. We’ve come such a long way in treating and dealing with melanoma and I know that will continue. I’m very glad that those Ol’ Days of melanoma treatment are just that.

Mike's scar from his melanoma surgery in the 1970s is often mistaken for a shark bite.