It feels a bit like a life sentence

Tuesday 9 November, 2021

Man in sun protective clothing and hat at a rockpool

Tim Peterson is an experienced rock-climber, solo hiker and traveller, and has come close to death several times as a child. It’s fair to say he’s faced many dangerous situations in his lifetime. 

Despite an adventurous upbringing, Tim claims nothing in his past has come close to the challenges he faced over the last two years. 

“I’ve always been able to rely on my physical strength and mental toughness to get me out of difficult situations. None of these have prepared me for facing melanoma.” 

Tim, a 45-year-old environmental engineer and lecturer, first noticed an odd spot on his left arm in early 2019. 

“The spot was sunset pink and raised. It looked different but I felt too busy to follow it up at the time, so I left it.” 

Later in the year, prompted by a change in jobs, father of two Tim had the spot looked at. It was stage 2B nodular melanoma. The spot was surgically removed requiring a depth of 20mm through the first layer of muscle and wide margins leaving a 9cm scar. Tim then started immunotherapy – a type of treatment that stimulates the body’s immune system to fight the cancer. 

Early 2020 and a second lump was identified only 4cm from the original site. After an anxious wait for the biopsy and the results, a second surgery followed, revealing another melanoma. Tim likens the surgery to seeing surgeons carve up a roast lamb. 

“I went through the whole gamut of emotions at that point. Being scientifically minded, I immediately went into research mode to better understand what a reoccurrence meant. It wasn’t great news. 

Tim underwent eight months of immunotherapy (every 3–4 weeks) which required lengthy periods spent in the chair and assessments to check if the body can handle another cycle. Tim also suffered quite harsh side effects. Extreme fatigue, aches, loss of physical strength and peripheral neuropathy (intense pain and numbness in his feet) to name a few. 

“My sister couldn’t believe the level of fatigue I was experiencing. She was shocked to see so much life be sucked out of me by the treatment. I’m fortunate to have access to such life-saving treatment with top medical care but there’s certainly nothing straight forward about it – and it’s particularly challenging knowing there’s no guarantee it will work.” 

After a family holiday of rock climbing and mountain biking in June 2021, Tim found another lump.  

“It was so small you could barely feel it. I thought I may even have imagined it, but it was really there.” 

The spot was removed, as well as another micro satellite near the original spot.  

“It’s been really hard to reconcile these past two years and the knowledge that you’re never really cured from melanoma. You simply don’t know if there are any rogue cells in your body that will cause it to come back. It feels a bit like a life sentence.” 

Growing up, Tim spent a lot of time outdoors. Sunburn was a common side effect of family beach holidays, and rock climbing abroad as a young adult saw him spend entire days out in the sun. As an adult, Tim’s love of outdoor activity continued with hikes, climbing and cycling to work for the best part of a decade. 

“I used to apply sunscreen early in the day but would usually forget to reapply as the day wore on. Sun protection wasn’t a big focus for me. I attempted it but didn’t pay close attention. 

“One of the profound failures of my life is that I didn’t take better care of myself. I’m an educated person with good prior knowledge of the risks and yet I still didn’t heed the warnings. Even as an adult.” 

One of Tim’s biggest realisations through this experience is that melanoma doesn’t just affect the person with the diagnosis. 

“I’ve seen the toll these past two years have taken on my wife and family and it’s been hard to watch. 

“As partners and dads, we have a responsibility to do everything in our power to keep ourselves safe and healthy for those close to us. In most cases skin cancer can be easily prevented with sun protection – we just need to step up and do it.” 

Learn how to protect yourself and your family at