Melanoma survivor Ken Harriss, 51, is sharing his skin cancer battles with Tasmanian teenagers as part of his Run from the Sun awareness campaign, hoping to prevent future deaths from the insidious disease.
Each year up to 50 people die from melanoma in Tasmania, which is the third most common cancer in women and the fourth most common in men.
Mr Harriss became one of those men in 2012 when he found a lump in his neck.
He had eight hours of surgery to remove the melanoma tumours from his head and neck, but 12 months later a stage four melanoma was found to have spread to his chest.
“Melanoma has the unfortunate habit of coming back, and stage 4 is very hard to treat, occurring when it has progressed to either the lymphatic system or to an organ that is distanced to the primary site.”
Mr Harris had surgery to remove the secondary tumours, has taken part in clinical treatment trials, is now living with no evidence of the disease, and has his “fingers crossed” that it will not come back.
He is riding his motorbike around Tasmania giving school presentations to raise awareness about the dangers of UV radiation, having already spoken at the Launceston and Newstead Colleges, and Campbell Town District High.
“Those in the 15 to 39 year age bracket are the most frequently diagnosed with this cancer and it is vitally important that they are aware of this,” he said.
“The old adage that a tan is healthy is wrong. A tan is a sign that the skin is being damaged.”
Melanoma is caused by exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation, and certain characteristics increase chances of diagnosis including pale skin, fair or red hair, family history of melanoma, repeated exposure to sun resulting in sunburn blisters, and having moles.
“People need to be aware of their own skin, but also, if someone notices something on the skin of a close friend or family member and they don’t like the look of it, get their friend to seek a medical opinion. Early detection is best,” Mr Harriss said.