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 a 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.
You can read more about Mike on his blog post.