A Bundaberg man is urging locals to get their skin checked after he recently took part in a life-saving clinical trial after being diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma, a highly aggressive skin cancer.
While the trial was run out of Brisbane it offered regional support, meaning John Mason was able to receive immunotherapy treatment out of Bundaberg Hospital.
An intrepid explorer, John has spent much of his 72 years outside in the sun.
When his doctor found a malignant tumour below his left ear, John Mason felt that removal and recovery would be a routine process.
A month after having the lump surgically removed, John made the journey from his home in Bundaberg to Brisbane’s Princess Alexandria Hospital, where he was scheduled to begin chemotherapy.
But when a doctor John had never seen before sombrely ushered him into a small consultation room, he realised something was wrong.
“The doctor told me that I had a Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer,” he said.
“I had never heard of it before, so – still reeling from the shock of the diagnosis – I asked what the survival rate was.
“He looked me square in the eyes and said earnestly ‘Frankly, the numbers aren’t good, John.'”
Skin cancer trial provides better outcome for John
The doctor who saw John that morning was Dr Wen Xu, head of the Australasian Merkel Cell Carcinoma Interest Group (AMIGOs) and Study Chair of a new clinical trial investigating a promising new treatment involving the immunotherapy drug, Avelumab.
“When Dr Xu told me about this exciting new clinical trial that he was leading, I could hardly believe it,” John said.
“Not only would I get free access to an otherwise prohibitively expensive treatment, but I’d get regular monitoring and support.
“In the space of minutes, I’d gone from the crushing low of my diagnosis to realising how lucky I was to meet Dr Xu and receive the treatment that I’m getting.”
After a few formalities were completed, John was soon enrolled in the I-MAT trial and, after a course of radiotherapy, commenced immunotherapy.
He was able to receive the treatment in Bundaberg, as the I-MAT trial has several regional sites to ensure more Australians can take part.
“I was so grateful that I didn’t need to travel to Brisbane for immunotherapy, as that would have been a huge complication,” John said.
“When you are going through something as stressful as a cancer diagnosis, you just want a bit of normality; to stay in your own home, spend time with your loved ones, that sort of thing.
“Being able to access the treatment locally has been hugely positive for me.”
John responded well to Avelumab, experiencing very few side-effects.
Having finished the treatment he is now focused on completing the PhD he commenced before his diagnosis.
John is researching sustainability issues amongst volunteer firefighters.
“I’ve long been intrigued by what motivates these local heroes to put their lives on the line, and through my treatment I’ve had the opportunity to meet some other inspirational heroes,” he said.
“From Dr Xu through to everyone at Generis Care and Cancer Care in Bundaberg, and knowing I am in the best possible hands at every step has made the journey easier.
“Most importantly, I’d encourage everyone to be more careful in the sun. I certainly wasn’t careful enough and it’s caught up with me.
“But if you do get a bad diagnosis or a scary prognosis, it doesn’t have to be the end – and thanks to modern medicine and research, it can actually be a new beginning.
“Hold fast, be brave, and have faith in the skills of the incredible health professionals assisting you.”
To find out more about the melanoma and skin cancer trials visit https://www.masc.org.au/.
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