• Be SunSmart. Arthur Pereira/Unsplash
    Be SunSmart. Arthur Pereira/Unsplash

Great Walks editor Brent McKean wants to send you a message about being SunSmart as he’s learnt the hard way about looking after your skin in the outdoors.

"I’ve just gone under the knife. Again. Unfortunately due to my fair Celtic skin – and the fact that when I was a kid there was no such thing as being 'SunSmart' – I'm constantly having skin cancers cut out.

The one I’ve just had removed just below my left eye was a nasty Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC). There are three main types of skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), that’s the most common one, then SCC and then a Melanoma (that's the one that can be deadly). I've had all three.

Fortunately I regularly check my skin so I know if there are any moles that need to be looked at by an expert. It all started in 2009 when I noticed a mole on my chest had changed colour.

My doctor cut it out and had it tested. He then told me the mole was a malignant Melanoma and I needed to see a surgeon ASAP. During the examination my surgeon found several mysterious lumps in my armpit and groin. His main concern was they could be signs of secondary cancer so I was booked for more surgery four days later.

I kept on thinking, ‘These things don’t happen to me. I’m fit, I’ve never smoked or had any health problems’, (well, as a five-year-old I put my arm through the clothes ringer of mum’s old washing machine, but that’s another story). My partner Holly was in the *Kimberley out of range and all I could do was get on with editing Great Walks and not think about the surgery.

Breaking the news to Holly, when she finally rang from Broome, was harder than I thought but it felt good talking about it. The next day I went under the knife and spent two days in hospital. It was another long week recovering at home and waiting for the test results.

Fortunately I was given the all-clear. However, as I’m now in the high risk category for skin cancer I have to get regular tests and be extra-vigilant in the sun. That means never forgetting to put on sunblock, and always keeping covered up with a wide hat and long-sleeved shirt.

It’s a familiar message these days, as skin cancer is so much in the news. It was pleasing to see Melanoma research and treatment pioneers, Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer, being jointly named 2024 Australians of the Year. It just shows how important their work is.

I implore all of you lovers of the great outdoors to get your skin checked regularly and understand the dangers of burning in the sun – even in winter.

'So much of the cancer burden is dependent on people’s behaviour or lifestyles,' says Australian cancer expert, Professor David Hill. 'One’s decision to avoid smoking, be SunSmart, reduce alcohol intake, eat a nutritionally balanced diet and exercise regularly can significantly decrease the burden.'"

For more info please visit cancer.org.au

Words_Brent McKean

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