When Jenny Noblet first started at Hunter Melanoma Foundation, the cancer was difficult to treat and didn’t respond to traditional forms of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
“That’s why the foundation invested heavily in research and funded 10 PHD scholarships over the past two and a half decades,” she told Newcastle Weekly.
“We were told that was the only way we were going to make a difference.
“Now we are seeing the benefits of all that investment with the immunotherapy drugs and people’s response to that.”
Ms Noblet will retire from her role as chief executive tomorrow (Friday 12 July) after almost 26 years.
She said the foundation had worked hard to raise awareness and reduce incidence over the decades, with a focus on the younger generation through school programs.
A Checkmate campaign was also developed as a direct result of studies that showed patients who presented with thick melanoma were mostly in older age groups and particularly men.
“Our aim has always been to reduce the incidence and mortality and you do that through prevention and early detection,” Ms Noblet said.
“A lot of what we started a long time ago has been copied by other people.
“For instance, visiting schools, which we’ve been doing for the past 15 years, basically reinforcing the ‘No Hat, No Play’ – this is why you’re wearing a hat and playing in the shade.
“I couldn’t believe it but they’re only just starting to introduce that in America and, of course, they would have higher incidence than us because of the population.”
Despite the positive progress, Ms Noblet said many Australians did not understand ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
She added that, one weekend several years ago, 40-degree heat forced sporting clubs to cancel events across the Hunter Region, with the UV sitting at 15.
The following weekend, the temperature dropped to 27 degrees, so all sports went ahead despite the UV remaining the same.
“People don’t realise that and, of course, when it’s 40 degrees we remember to put a hat on and stay in the shade,” Ms Noblet said.
“When it’s 27 or 24 degrees, it’s really pleasant and you don’t think about it and that’s where you get a lot of your damage.
“So, there’s still a lot for us to do on that front.”
Ms Noblet’s replacement, Claudia Tolhurt, took over the role on 1 July.
The Newcastle Melanoma Unit was established at the Wallsend Hospital in 1981 to combat the high incidence in the region.
Seven years later, the Hunter Melanoma Foundation became a registered charity and, in 2001, the unit moved to its current state-of-the-art facility at the Calvary Mater Hospital.