A SMALL dot on the lower part of Nathan Hartigan’s leg caused him to fear for his life.
Hartigan is both a tradie and one of Ballarat’s top distance runners. He is in the sun a lot and, with also with fair skin, knew to be vigilant with sun protection.
All it took was a questionable dot – not a giant, odd mole – and Hartigan’s life was turned upside-down with an aggressive melanoma.
Hartigan is urging anyone who will listen to be fastidious in checking and protecting their skin, particularly as the weather warms and people venture outdoors more for the holiday season.
Even though Hartigan considers himself lucky, now back to full health one year on, he is acutely aware “it could’ve been a hell of a lot worse”.
Initially concerned, Hartigan had the dot check and was told to keep watch. A year later doctors sent him for a specialist check that confirmed he was in the minute percentage for malignant melanoma. It had spread to one of the lymph nodes in his groin and required further surgery.
Luckily for Hartigan, the cancer had not spread beyond the lymph node.
“It all wouldn’t have got that far if I had’ve got the dot checked earlier. The doctor told me to come back in six months, you get busy, and I went back in 12,” Hartigan said.
All my friends – everyone I run with, everyone I work with – they know I’m dynamite with sunscreen. I tell them all to apply it. It’s sad I had to go through that as a reminder.
Cancer Council Victoria has this week exposed an “abysmally low” use of clothing, hats and shade on summer weekends.
The study into sun protection behaviours in Melbourne’s parks, streets and swimming areas last summer has prompted the campaign UV It all adds up as a glaring reminder ultraviolet rays can damaged unprotected skin no matter where you are.
Hartigan said it was not always practical for tradies to cover-up completely when they work outdoors in summertime but it was important to work smarter.
Personally, Hartigan applies sunscreen almost hourly when working outdoors and checks his skin spots nightly. But he knows other tradies can be far more complacent.
“As Australians we should be a lot more sun-smart than we are really,” Hartigan said. “You’ve got to remember skin cancer can affect any of us.”
Cancer challenged Hartigan’s body inside-out. As an elite marathon runner, Hartigan was physically fit when diagnosed in July 2017 but, looking back, said he should have paid more attention to the subtle effects. He was growing increasingly lethargic.
Hartigan likened the experience to Hawthorn footballer Jarryd Roughead, who had a melanoma detected and removed from his lip in 2015 only to learn the cancer had spread to spots on his lungs a year later.
While Hartigan did not need chemotherapy, radiation or immunotherapy, he must undergo PET scans every six months and blood tests every three months for the next five years. These will be scaled back for the five years after.
Hartigan speaks highly of the team team he has got to know well in Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, located inside Ballarat Health Services Base Hospital. But he hopes you never need to meet them.
The team Hartigan does want you to meet is at The Skin Spot, in Armstrong Street, where he gets reminders for checks and a photographic history.
Surgery put Hartigan off work for about six weeks but sidelined from running for seven months. Not running, he said, was partly a mental hurdle in knowing he would be back out in the sun again clocking up kilometres.
You can’t let cancer define who you are. But early detection and prevention is vital.Nathan Hartigan
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Cancer Council finds most skin cancer can be prevented with good sun protection. The study highlights we are over-relying on sunscreen and best protection is a combination of proactive approaches.
Check local sun protection times on the free SunSmart or Bureau of Meteorology apps. During these times each day:
• Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible
• Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
• Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears
• Seek shade
• Slide on sunglasses
More coverage needed: expert
OLDER Victorians are more likely to be sun-smart than teenagers and young adults, a new observational study shows.
About one in two adults aged 50-plus will cover their legs when exploring parks and gardens, compared to less than one in three teenagers, and leg coverage increases to two in three adults visiting outdoor cafes with marginal behaviour change among teenagers.
A new Cancer Council Victoria observational study sound an “abysmally low” use of sun protection in Melbourne public places during summer.
The lack of protective clothing when out in the summer sun is particularly concerning to SunSmart manager Heather Walker, who said behaviours like going shirtless, put people at great risk to sunburn and skin cancers.
Ms Walker said the sun protection message must be reiterated as we head outdoors more in the holidays.
Best protection is from combining clothing, a broad hat, shade, sunglasses and sunscreen.
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