The right side of the numbers

Thursday 19 August, 2021


Matt was getting dressed when he felt something odd on the inside of his right leg. Unable to see it, he took a photo to get a better view. It was raised and nodular and just seemed a bit odd. Instinctively feeling that something wasn’t right Matt went to his GP to get it checked.

The GP removed the spot ‘just to be safe’ and sent it off for a routine biopsy.

In a cruel twist of fate, Matt received the results on Christmas Eve in 2019. It was stage 3 melanoma with lymph node invasion. The diagnosis shocked him, and he went home feeling overwhelmed and unable to reconcile what he’d been told.

“I was really surprised by the diagnosis. I’d actually put the surgery off for a few days as I hadn’t expected it to be anything to worry about.

“After hearing the results, I threw myself into researching what it all meant. It was probably the worst thing I could’ve done because it wasn’t good news and I completely broke down.”

Months of treatment involving targeted therapy followed by immunotherapy and radiation had some impact on the localised cancer cells. But the side effects were debilitating.

“The side effects were hefty, and I ended up in hospital with colitis (inflammation of the colon). People don’t realise how traumatic some of the treatments can be. With melanoma that has spread there’s nothing simple about treating it.”

Despite some success with radiotherapy, 15 months into the treatment the cancer appeared to have progressed. By June 2021 the scans showed the melanoma had spread to Matt’s spine (L4 and L5) and was now stage 4.

“You hear the statistics of recovery and reoccurrence at each stage of treatment and all you can do is hope that you’re on the right side of the numbers.

“I’m an optimistic person and I draw inspiration from my son, but it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole when you look at some of the statistics.”

With every round of treatment and every scan, Matt rides an emotional rollercoaster.

“The hardest thing is the unknown. Every PET scan and MRI is daunting and anxiety raising. The treatments have some great outcomes, but everyone responds differently so you just never know what’s going to happen.

“For me, being a single parent makes the ups and downs even more challenging. On the one hand it’s heart wrenching but on the other it makes me even more determined.”

A socially minded person, Matt works as a drug and alcohol practitioner providing counselling, support and care for those in recovery. It is this sense of community and concern for others that has driven Matt to share his story and raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer.

“Not many people are aware of how quickly things can change and that a melanoma may not always show up where the skin has seen the sun. You need to know your own skin and check all the nooks and crannies regularly.

“If you find something even the slightest bit concerning, don’t ignore it. Trust your gut and get it checked by your GP and ask for a referral if necessary.

“If it’s not skin cancer, well then you can rest easy knowing it was well worth spending 15 minutes at an appointment being sure.”

If you notice anything new or changing on your skin, see your GP immediately. The sooner skin cancer is found, the easier it is to treat.

Matt hopes by sharing his story that he can impact others and turn his experience into something productive. At the time of writing, Matt’s treatment for stage 4 melanoma at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre was still underway.

If you would like to speak with an experienced cancer nurse call the Cancer Council Information and Support line on 13 11 20 Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm.