55-year-old Warren Penna knows all too well the risks associated with too much UV. Growing up in Regional Victoria, Warren loved spending time in the sun. His love of the outdoors continued into adulthood working as a horticulturist for over 25 years.
In 2017, Warren was diagnosed with a melanoma on his right arm. The melanoma was quickly removed with wide margins but unfortunately, in 2019, the melanoma came back. And this time it was stage 4 and had spread to his brain, liver and lungs.
“I thought to myself, this couldn’t be right, I’m a healthy person. But when I saw the scans and the size of the tumours I thought, wow, gosh … I was sure I was going to die.”
Warren has undergone multiple surgeries including brain surgery as well as a gruelling schedule of immunotherapy for the last 18 months. The toll the diagnosis and treatment has taken on Warren and his husband has been immense.
“For the best part of 18 months I felt like I was in limbo land and that I couldn’t plan for the future. I had to give up work and I spent most of my days at Peter Mac. I often contemplated by own mortality and the meaning of life.
“Every scan played hell with my mental health. My mind took me to some dark places that weren’t real. I had to try really hard not to bring everyone around me down on those days.
“Gregg (my husband) has been my rock through all this. He has suffered just as much as I have. This journey has certainly been a long, arduous one for all of us.”
After being forced to dig deep every day and face seemingly insurmountable challenges, Warren is doing well today.
“My melanoma is almost gone. Tumours on the lungs, liver and armpit are all gone. Only one small tumour to go. It may disappear or it may just remain stable. Either way it’s fantastic news. I didn’t think I’d make my next birthday this time last year. Miracles can happen.”
Warren is acutely aware that he’s one of the lucky ones and that many others with a stage 4 melanoma diagnosis are not as fortunate.
“If I could spare even one other person the colossal physical and emotional rollercoaster I’ve experienced I would. I stared death in the face and somehow came back from it. And to think this experience could’ve largely been avoided by using good sun protection.”
Outdoor workers receive between 5 and 10 times the UV exposure of indoor workers. It’s the sun’s UV, not heat that causes the damage. Damage from UV exposure adds up overtime, so the more you’re exposed – even at very low levels – the greater your risk of skin cancer. For that reason, sun protection is recommended all year round for outdoor workers.