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Personal cancer story

Nathan Telfer

When I was a young adult, my dad had a few skin cancers removed. Seeing everything he went through made me conscious of my own skin health, so sun protection was something I'd think about when I was spending time in the sun or at the beach. I'd try to wear sunscreen, a hat, sunnies and clothes that covered me up a fair bit.

Nathan Telfer

But looking back, I was a bit more laid-back about it all when the weather was overcast. And I often wouldn't wear all the sun protection at once – sometimes I'd wear sunscreen but no shirt, or sunnies and no hat. Like a lot of Aussie teens, I spent countless hours outside and at the beach, so those times when I wasn't properly protected really added up.

At 29, I went to see my GP for a minor illness. When I lifted my shirt for him to use a stethoscope on my chest he noticed some moles, and started looking at an unusual mole on my shoulder.

"I'm going to refer you to a dermatologist. You need to get that checked out sooner rather than later," he urged me.

I wasn't too worried about it. As the mole was in a spot I couldn't really see without a mirror, it was a bit ‘out of sight, out of mind’, so I ignored it.

But when someone pointed out that the mole was weeping through my shirt a few months later, I knew it was time to get it sorted. I finally saw a dermatologist, who took a biopsy.

Not long after, I got the call to come back for another appointment. Because of my family history, it did cross my mind that it could be a melanoma – and I was right. I had a stage 2 melanoma and it needed to be removed.

I was a bit shocked, but then I thought, "Well, the experts are the experts. I'll do whatever they say to get in the clear."

I was grateful when my dermatologist moved me to the top of the waiting list, so I didn't have to wait long for the procedure to get it removed. The mole and some surrounding areas of skin were taken out.

A while later I was told that it had been a success. The dermatologist was satisfied that enough had been removed, and I was no longer at risk. It was a big relief.

After it had all been dealt with, I moved from Brisbane down to Sydney. My dad and cousin told me about a study they both take part in there at Westmead Hospital, which involves check-ups and photographic mapping of moles. I decided to participate too, so now I go and get 26 moles tracked every three months. With my history, it's great to be helping the researchers and also keeping an eye on my own skin.

While my scar is pretty large, I'm glad to say that it's healed well. And as it's on the back of my shoulder it really doesn't bother me.

The experience has definitely left me more cautious about my time in the sun. I still go outside and enjoy the great outdoors, but I'm more aware of the risks involved.

I'm sharing my story to encourage others to see their GP and get a referral to a dermatologist if they have any suspicious or changing moles – and to take plenty of precautions when they spend time outdoors. It's just not worth the risk.

Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer