FORMER truck driver Jay Allen has lost 54 friends to melanoma. Most of them Jay had got to know through his own battles with cancer after discovering an unusual mole on his ankle that kept rubbing on his work boots and bleeding.
Becoming a cancer patient had a massive impact on Jay's life. He will march into Ballarat on Tuesday on Jay's Longest Melanoma March from Adelaide en route to Sydney. Alongside him will march Ballarat supporters.
They walk to support people affected by melanoma, to raise awareness in being sun-safe and getting regular skin checks and to raise funds for Melanoma Institute Australia's research. And they walk for those who can no longer walk with them.
Jay has support from Hollywood star Eric Bana, AFL club Sydney Swans and radio identity Alan Jones but has been overwhelmed by the response from everyday walkers signing up to step out with him. Places are limited to join the walk and Ballarat was booked out early.
Along the way, Jay talks to community and school groups and he has been particularly keen to drive home his message to farmers to stay sun-safe.
His small band of walkers stops every hour to reapply sunscreen.
"It can be hard to get the message out there, especially in wearing broad brimmed hats. Once you explain why to change from caps to broad brimmed, people start to understand," Jay said. "...I want to do everything I can to help save lives."
The melanoma on Jay's ankle was 1.95 millimetres deep and had spread to his lymph nodes. He was 32 years old. Eleven years later, and fighting fit, Jay has long given up driving trucks to work in raising awareness for the institute.
Jay's aim is for children to get in the routine of applying sunscreen when they brush their teeth every morning to help set up habits for life.
One Australian dies from melanoma every five hours. Melanoma causes 75 per cent of skin cancer deaths and Australia has one of the highest rates in the world with it most commonly found in people aged 15 to 39. If detected early, 90 per cent of cases can be successfully treated with surgery.
This is not Jay's first long walk but it is his most ambitious, trekking 200 kilometres in 50 days. Jay spoke to The Courier outside Kaniva, just after a 46km leg, and said while the walk was going well, days were getting tougher.
To donate or follow the match, visit melanomamarch.org.au or Jay's Longest March on social media channels.
WHAT CAN YOU DO TO BE SUN-SMARTER?
Cancer Council finds most skin cancer can be prevented with good sun protection. A study released late last year highlighted 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
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