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Saturday, July 24, 2021

Spotlight on “forgotten cancer”

Selwyn Robinson spent a lot of time in the sun as a young man, and now he is paying the price.

The stonemason of 46 years said he knew he should protect his skin and wear sunscreen but being “young and silly” meant he did not fully understand the consequences. 

Now aged 62, Selwyn has had 40 skin cancers removed and a toe amputated because of non-melanoma skin cancer.

The Port Stephens resident is sharing his story during Skin Cancer Action Week (15 to 21 November) to urge people to look after their skin.

“I couldn’t be adamant enough that, with the amount of sun cancers I have removed, it is much better to protect yourself rather than having the surgeries at a later date,” he said.

“When I was young, sun cancer wasn’t even heard of, doctors weren’t even saying a sun cancer, they were just saying skin damage from the sun, it wasn’t even heard of back then.

“I see a lot of young parents nowadays with children and think:  ‘Oh gosh, if you guys only knew what I went through you would be ensuring those kids are very well sun protected.’”

The avid fisherman has made several life changes, including protecting his skin, staying out of the sun where he can, and fishing at night.

His most recent bout began with a visit to his GP about a lump on his face where, after the appointment, Selwyn was referred to a skin specialist.

“I went to Dr Mistry at 4D Skin Cancer & Laser Clinic in Belmont and he thought it looked like a cyst but when he removed it in the surgery he said: ‘I don’t like the look of that’,” Selwyn said.

“They sent it away to have a look at it, and 10 days later, Dr Mistry said: ‘I have got bad news for you, it’s a basal cell but it is growing inwards, it’s quite concerning, so we are going to have to put you into hospital to have surgery.’

“He cut from one corner of my eye right down past my nose to another corner of my mouth.

“They had a frozen section done so they could send a section of it away to get the results within the hour and, thankfully, they got it all.

“But, when I got the stitches removed, Dr Mistry sent me to get radiation therapy to be safe.

 “He referred me to GenesisCare and they were the most wonderful people that I have ever had to deal with.”

At GenesisCare, Selwyn received Volumetric Modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT), a new, innovative technique in modern radiation therapy used in the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer.

Radiation Oncologist Dr Phillippa Ell said the treatment shapes the radiation beam to fit the tumour and was good for patients who have complex anatomy or lesions that are very close to structures they want to avoid.

GenesisCare Radiation Oncologist Dr Phillippa Ell. Photo: Peter Stoop

“Patients really need to be aware that there are a number of treatment options available,” she said.

“When we think of skin cancer, we think of surgical removal, but there are other options available.

“There are some areas, like the face, that the outcomes are poor cosmetically because they have to cut out a large part of [the area], so radiation is a good option.”

Dr Ell added that prevention was vital, with about two out of every three Newcastle residents expected to be diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer before the age of 70.

“In terms of prevention – slip, slop and slap,” she said.

“Stay out of the sun as [much] as possible, wear a hat, sunscreen and rashie or shirt when you’re at the beach.

“Cover your skin and, if you do go out in the sun, try to make it outside of the peak burning time and keep the periods as short as possible.

“It’s very important because we live in a very outdoor culture, especially in Newcastle given that we live by the ocean.

“It’s a bit of a forgotten cancer [even though] there has been generational changes around sun protection.”

Selwyn said he was thankful to GenesisCare for the non-surgical option.

“I was concerned that a surgery would lead to deep and obvious scarring on my face,” he said.

“I was grateful when my doctor suggested an alternative, non-invasive treatment option.

“I cannot thank Dr Mistry and Dr Ell enough for their kindness and care.

“In the long run they have probably saved me from a considerable amount of suffering and future problems with sun cancer.”

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