photo: CPL - Aloe Up Ambassador Dylan Barnfield hanging 5!
Every year over 4,000 New Zealanders are diagnosed with Melanoma and 300+ die from this preventable disease. 30% are under 50. Melanoma is the most common cancer in 25 - 29 year age group and the 2nd most common in the 15 - 29 age group.
We recently caught up with Dylan Barnfield who is a 24 year old Engineer living in New Plymouth. Dylan grew up living at the beach and at the age of 16 had malignant melanoma removed from his back. Luckily Dylan's melanoma was caught early and he has gone on to win numerous national surfing titles and compete overseas as well as graduate from the University of Canterbury with an Honours degree in Civil Engineering. Below Dylan has answered a few questions for us regarding his early detection and treatment of malignant melanoma skin cancer.
What did the melanoma look like?
The melanoma was on my back, so I never really got to see it. But from what I've been told it was different shades and there was a halo around the outside edge of the mole. The main things to keep an eye out for are asymmetry of a mole, non-uniform boarders, uneven colours within the mole and any mole with a diameter that is larger than 6mm.
Who noticed it first?
It was first noticed by a family member. I was just chilling out at home and watching TV after a long Saturday at the beach as I did regularly during my grommet years and they saw it on my back. It was a lucky pick up and was only noticed by chance.
Did you have it seen to immediately?
Yea Dad booked me in with our local GP straight away and we went in on Monday after the weekend.
Did you feel unwell at all?
Na, I felt fine, wouldn't have had the faintest idea anything was wrong. I guess because the melanoma was still in its early stages it had no adverse effects.
How quickly did treatment start?
The GP said that we could book in with a dermatologist and get an experts advice but he recommended that I had it excised immediately. Our doctor said that if it was a malignant melanoma everyday longer that we left it could be making the situation worse and it was better to be on the safe side and get it cut out straight away. We took the doctor's advice and I came back the next day.
What was the treatment?
The treatment is basically just cut it all out before it spreads. Our GP took a solid slice out of my back and stitched me back up. I then just basically had to wait for the lab test results to come back. It was a pretty nervous wait, initially the results came back clear, meaning that the whole melanoma had been cut out and they were happy that the margins around the cut were big enough. So life went back to normal for a few weeks, I got the stitches out and got back in the water. A few more weeks went by and then we got a call to come back into the doctors. The tissue samples had been sent to other specialists and they said that they wanted to cut more out just to be 100% sure with the margins. This time I was booked into the hospital for the surgery and they cut around my fresh scar and then stitched me back up.
How long was the treatment for?
Luckily the melanoma was caught early and minor surgery was the only treatment necessary. That's what's key with melanoma, catching it early because if you do its completely treatable.
How did you react to the news?
To be honest I didn't really know what was going on, I was only 16 years old and still had a pretty naive view of the world, didn't know much about cancer at all. I think Mum and Dad did their best not to scare me and didn't tell me too much about it.
How did your family react?
Again I was only 16 so couldn't read Mum or Dad's emotions that well but I think it would have been pretty hard for them. They would have had a horrible time waiting for the results. I think after everything it really made everybody in the family a lot more aware of their sun exposure and to always look for any changes with freckles or moles.
Did you use sunscreen before being diagnosed?
Yea Mum and Dad would always block me up when I was young but I think I got a bit slack in my younger teenage years. I just didn't really know what the consequences of not wearing sunblock were so if the surf was pumping I might skip the putting sunblock on step to get in the water quicker haha.
What are you doing now to protect your skin?
Now I always wear sunblock and zinc, I use Aloe up because it's Aloe Vera based and good for your skin, unlike a lot of other sun blocks. I also always surf with a vest or t-shirt on if I'm surfing between 9am-5pm.
How often is your skin checked?
I get yearly skin checks with Molemap which has been working really well. They take a picture of every mole that you have and the pictures are then sent to a dermatologist for analysis. If they are concerned about a mole they will advise you to come back in 3 months for another check or to get a biopsy done. The good thing about Molemap is they keep all the pictures so that you can see if there have been any changes over the year. I have had quite a few biopsies done over the last 10 years all of which came back clear. I was a bit worried the first time I had one but it's not that big of a deal it's normally just a tiny little cut and 1 or 2 stitches.
Also I always check my own skin for changes, you should know your own skin better than anybody and if you see a change, get it checked out.
What do you recommend people do to reduce chance of melanoma?
First and foremost always wear sunblock and zinc, even if you've got a darker skin tone you should still put sunscreen on. Also always be aware of the sun and don't overdo it, every sun-burn that you get just increases your risk of skin cancer. If you have fair skin or family history you should start getting regular skin checks, either with a dermatologist or something like Molemap. A lot of people are put off skin checks because they are expensive but you can't put a price on life.
What should we look for to help early diagnosis?
Always look for changes yourself and if you notice something changing don't put off getting it checked. It's always better to be safe than sorry. I suggest that everybody has a look around the Molemap website for tips on what to look for, http://molemap.co.nz/ .
Taking Dylan's advice onboard may well save your life. Know your skin and have a friend or family member check out your back regularly and you do the same for others. Get to your doctor immediately you see anything odd.
Thank you Dylan for increasing Melanoma awareness by sharing your experience and insight.
March is Melanoma awareness month in NZ so please do share this information. for further information go to Melanoma Foundation of NZ Website http://melanoma.org.nz