Don, a retired 57-year-old golf enthusiast, returned from holiday in 2008 with what he thought was a mosquito bite, only to discover it was something much more serious. He has been battling melanoma ever since, but this hasn’t kept him off the course. With good medical care, and the support of family and friends, not only has Don kept one step ahead of his cancer, he has been actively raising awareness, including taking part in a recent golf tournament fund-raiser for melanoma research. Here he talks about the journey that has made him a Melanoma Hero.
Tell us about your path to diagnosis
Following a holiday, I had a number of mosquito bites but one bite on my arm lingered. I thought it just wasn’t healing properly, but my wife pushed me to see a doctor and they took a biopsy. It turned out to be melanoma. At that point, it was removed and I wasn’t overly concerned. But I soon learned that the cancer tends to resurface and three years later, it did. More lumps appeared and by that point I didn’t need a biopsy.
What happened when you found out the cancer had spread?
I knew that available treatments were not very promising but luckily I was eligible for a clinical trial. My doctor advised me not to have surgery but to observe the lumps as a marker to see if the new treatment was working. As they started to recede, I was confident that everything else would follow suit and luckily it did. At the nine month hurdle, I felt a bit like a pioneer.
What have been your biggest obstacles since diagnosis?
Redefining my new version of normal. By that time in life, I was working part-time and when you’re not busy, you can spend too much time self-reflecting. I’m a sports enthusiast, but outdoor activities became extremely limiting. I also didn’t like explaining it to people, as everyone’s story is different and often I would hear: ‘my son had one of those and had it burned off, now he’s fine’. Even though I was stage 4, when you don’t drastically look or feel different, you don’t fit the stereotype.
What has helped you get through you’re experience the most?
Working with the Melanoma Network of Canada has helped a great deal. Being involved in peer support with people who are going through difficult experiences, even more so than mine, has been humbling. It makes you realise how fortunate you are to be at this stage at this particular time and to have access to the kind of treatment I did.
What are your hopes for the melanoma community?
Until recently, there were no treatments that allowed oncologists to say ‘We’re confident we can knock this back for a while’. That progress, in such a short time, is staggering. There are now even more options and they get better every day. With regard to prevention, you have to adopt positive habits, but not to the point where life becomes unenjoyable.
Who do you think are the heroes of melanoma?
I wouldn’t say I’m a hero. I’m just a grateful recipient of the hard work of people developing treatments that have shown the first signs of progress in decades. You can be nothing other than thankful and I’m just happy to contribute in whichever way I can.
One final thing: what gets you out of bed in the morning?
To a great degree, it’s family and friends. What gets me out of bed is my ability to impact, hopefully positively, the people I’m close to. People define success in different ways. For some its career, for others its children. For me, it’s your experiences in life – not things – that are most important.