How I came back from a terminal diagnosis

Ryan's skin cancer story

After surviving a terminal cancer diagnosis, Ryan Channells, a 43-year-old volunteer firefighter from New South Wales, knows the value of not taking life for granted. 

Ryan says his family had always been conscious of the sun, living by the classic Australian rhyme ‘No hat, no play’.  

Ryan Channells lying propped up on a pillow in a hospital bed. He is smiling at the camera.

But his SunSmart behaviours started to lapse once he entered his 20s, and Ryan found himself having a melanoma cut out of his arm after falling asleep in the sun while in England. 

“I didn’t think the sun was dangerous and I paid the price," he said.  

Ryan thought nothing of the incident until late 2019 when, at age 40, he noticed a tiny lump near his left groin. While the first doctor he spoke to told Ryan he had nothing to worry about, his partner convinced him to seek a second opinion. 

“The tumour started as the size of a fingernail, and I watched it grow. By the time they operated, it was the size of my clenched fist and borderline inoperable.” 

Ryan’s melanoma was so advanced that he was given 6-8 months to live by his doctor. The only course of action at the time was immunotherapy, and the doctors said that radiation likely wouldn’t have touched the tumour. 

“I wasn’t supposed to make it to Christmas that year. My second child, Skye, was 3-months-old and my son Toby was 3-years-old.” 

Running out of options, Ryan says he was lucky enough to be handed a second chance at life through a drug trial.  

“Without that trial, I’d be dead. I watched the tumour shrink in amazement. The treatment took around a year, including the drug trial, an operation and immunotherapy.” 

“I was trying to stay positive. It was a very emotional time for my partner.” 

Today, Ryan has fallen back into everyday life. He has seen his daughter Skye become a bubbly 3-year-old and Toby is about to start primary school. 

Ryan currently visits Sydney every 6 months to have a CT scan and check up with his oncology team.  

“I’m adamant about the importance of getting a proper skin check each year. Circle your spots with a pen if you are prone to forgetting or write it down. It’s better to address it sooner than later.” 

“It takes 10 minutes a year to possibly save your life.  If you don't do it for yourself, then do it for your family.  Convince your family and friends to get a skin check.  After my operation, all my loved ones got checked- and 3 got melanomas cut out, which could have ended badly.” 

Ryan also encourages others to remember to be safe in the sun by using the five forms of sun protection – Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.  

“Don’t tan this summer. Don’t end up with a death sentence like me. There’s far too many people dying from skin cancer each year,” Ryan says.