Personal cancer story
I'm sharing my brother's story during National Skin Cancer Action Week in the hope that it will shock some people into being a little bit smarter about their time in the sun this summer, particularly if they work outdoors.
I had my first experience with skin cancer when I found out my friend Graeme had been diagnosed with melanoma. Graeme and his family battled with every ounce of strength they had, but unfortunately the cancer spread throughout his body and took a strong hold.
Little did I know that my younger brother Gav would also be diagnosed with melanoma just a few months later and pass away as a result at the age of 30.
So where do I begin?
My brother had always had a bit of an outdoors lifestyle. After high school, he decided to follow in my grandfather's footsteps and join the Army. He served many years in the north Queensland city of Townsville and did many overseas tours, including one in Iraq after 9/11.
Eventually, he quit the Army and moved back to Perth, where he took a job working with me in carpentry and construction. I think it's fair to say that between his time in the Army and his time working with me, my brother spent a lot of time out in the sun.
It was less than a year ago when he started to first experience symptoms. We were at my best friend's wedding and it was meant to be a great time away, but Gav was unwell. He had body aches and pains, tiredness and massive headaches that could not be explained.
The next weekend the body aches, headaches and pains got worse and my mum called me to say Gav had been rushed to hospital for scans. That same day we were told he had a tumour on his brain.
It was devastating news. Thoughts of losing my brother started rushing through my mind. I had a lot of crazy thoughts and feelings and didn't know how to react.
Over the coming days and weeks, the amazing specialist and doctors here in Perth discovered that my brother's brain tumour had rapidly stemmed from a melanoma.
It was a really hard time for the family. As humans, I think we always fear the worst but hope for the best and think anything is possible. My family and I believed Gavin could beat it – and he did battle on courageously. Gav never complained or blamed the world, he just took it on his chin and got up each day to try to live to the best of his ability. He faced a lot of ups and downs – it is amazing what the human body can endure.
There were some extremely bad days when Gav could not walk or really sit up. He would be sick for days at a time. These days were hard for all to see. His body was slowly dying.
As a family with close friends, everyone rallied around him. I know Gavin found it hard to see people all the time. He did not want his friends to pity him or worry over him; he put on a brave face and did his best to spend time with his mates. I think most of all he loved his time with his best mate, Evie, his Kelpie pup. She put the biggest smiles on his face.
My brother and I grew closer during this time – we would go to the movies, head to the park with the dogs or just relax together. Being able to spend time with him and chat openly was very special to me. I wish we had that sort of relationship all our lives. It sucks that we needed a life or death situation to be able to get to that point.
I have some great memories of taking a final trip with Gav up to my sister's house in Kununurra. It was one last trip for Gav and we made it count. We went sightseeing and had an amazing ride in our mate's helicopter out to some beautiful gorges, where we landed and had a swim. That was a great day.
People who know me would tell you that I have been a workaholic all my life, but seeing my brother deal with cancer changed me. I now understand that life is not about working for money or a house or stuff that we don't need – life is about the people around us and spending time with them. That's all we need. The rest is so insignificant.
You just never know what will be around the corner waiting for us. In a crazy stressed out world, we need to smile more.
My brother Gav died at the age of 30 on 12 October 2013.
He had been rushed back to the hospital just days before, as he had started feeling very sick at home. Gav had bought two Perth Wildcats membership season tickets for himself and me. Game 1 of the season was on the Friday 11 October 2013. Gav could not leave the hospital, so I went to the game with my best mate. We found it hard to focus on the game, but still enjoyed it.
Early the following day, my mum called and told me to get to the hospital as soon as possible. I made a mad dash across the city and arrived at the hospital in time. When I walked into his room he had already fallen into a deep sleep and it was only a matter of minutes before he left us.
My friend Graeme, also dealing with melanoma, was in the hospital just two doors down from Gav's room on the same day.
I sat by Gav's bed alongside my mum and dad and Gavin's girlfriend. We all were overwhelmed with emotions as his breathing slowed and then stopped and started for a while. My parents prayed as we sat in complete silence as my brother passed away and went home to God.
Unfortunately, I have been to a few more funerals this past year, including Graeme's.
I think I've learnt that no matter what the situation, we need to remember our loved ones who have passed away. I feel comfortable in knowing Gavin lived a great life. He served our great country on tours throughout the Middle East, he travelled the world and had many great adventures along the way. He was a good brother and a great uncle to our niece and nephew.
He would have made a great dad and husband one day. I know that many people have been through experiences similar to mine. It sucks. So that's why I wanted to tell my story. We need to band to together. That's what Gav always told me about the Army. They had each other's back through thick and thin.
So, I get back to where I started.
We can do a lot to help ourselves and try keep healthy and stronger for longer. Unfortunately, there are lot of different types of diseases and cancer among us in this world. We need to look after our bodies. It's the only one we get. Eat right, keep everything in moderation, put on sunscreen and protect yourself when in the sun.
It's not bloody rocket science really. We need to take responsibility for ourselves, and even for our friends and family.
Get out there and spread the word. Sun protection is needed. Who cares if you're not tanned and have sunscreen slathered all over your face? I reckon that's the cool thing to do. And it just may prevent you having to go through the year I have.
Read more stories about people's personal experiences with cancer