26-year-old's melanoma shock sparks urgent warning: 'Don't delay'
Oceana Strachan was one of many Aussies who put their regular skin checks on hold during the pandemic.
The now 26-year-old model discovered a new mole on her ankle in 2019. At the time doctors found nothing out of the ordinary.
With ongoing pandemic lockdowns during 2020 and no noticeable symptoms, it was a while before some redness and itching led her to book another skin check.
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Sharing her experience with Yahoo Lifestyle, Oceana says: “When I first discovered the mole, I was told it was normal to experience some itching in the area, but thought I should get it checked anyway. I also asked for a biopsy of the area - a very simple process which took five minutes and involved one stitch.
'I was shocked to be diagnosed'
“A week later, the biopsy results came back positive for melanoma. This was a huge shock to me. I was diagnosed with stage 2 melanoma," she recalls.
"Thankfully it hadn't spread to my lymph nodes, and was removed through surgery."
Talking about her diagnosis, Oceana says she initially felt a lot of guilt: “I had a coastal upbringing and spent a lot of time in the sun as a teenager. I have olive skin and naively thought if I got sunburnt, I would deal with the consequences much later in life."
As a younger person diagnosed with melanoma, Oceana says she found the experience quite isolating.
“At my appointments, most of the other patients were older, and I often felt isolated and alone without other people my age who knew what I was going through," she adds.
“I had great support from my close friends and family, and have since opened up about my experience on social media. I wish I’d opened up sooner, as I’ve been able to connect with other younger people going through this."
Through her own journey, Oceana has become passionate about encouraging others to start life-saving conversations, and she is the face of this year’s 'Game on Mole' campaign - an awareness campaign run by Melanoma Institute Australia.
Why is melanoma awareness important?
Aussies love spending time in the summer sun, and we also have the highest rates of melanoma, worldwide.
Considered the most deadly form of skin cancer, Melanoma grows quickly and if left untreated, it can spread rapidly to other parts of the body including the lymphatic system and organs.
Early detection and treatment is essential, as explained by Melanoma Institute Australia Co-Medical Director Professor Georgina Long AO: “If caught early 90 percent of melanomas can be cured with surgery alone, but if left undetected, melanoma can quickly spread to organs including the lungs, liver and brain.”
However, new figures from the Melanoma Institute of Australia have experts concerned that Australia could experience a post-pandemic cancer crisis.
Aussies put off vital skin checks due to pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, new patient referrals to the Melanoma Institute Australia have dropped to a 12-year low (down by 20 precent when compared to pre-pandemic rates in 2019).
They are concerned this drop means a delay in diagnosis, and that the coming year could see an influx of melanoma patients with more advanced stages of the disease.
“I’m so grateful I didn’t delay seeking treatment" says Oceana, "and that’s why I’m proudly supporting ‘Game on Mole’ - if just one person hears my story, and checks their skin and seeks medical advice, then it will be worth it.”
The campaign focuses on starting conversations about melanoma early detection and encourages Australians to take photos of their skin and monitor for changes.
“Let’s start more conversations and help to remind each other about skin checks: ‘Did you get checked before summer? Are you getting checked after summer?’," she suggests.
Oceana also encourages other Aussies not to be ashamed to get regular skin checks, regardless of age.
“Treat a skin check like your annual dental check - something you do even if you have no signs or symptoms that something is wrong. And, if you do receive a melanoma diagnosis, try to tap into a network of support as early on as possible.”
This year’s ‘Game On Mole’ campaign is in collaboration with t-shirt designer Everything’s Good, and all profits from t-shirt sales are being donated to support ongoing research at Melanoma Institute Australia.
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