Former truck driver Don Byfield is reminded every day of the devastating impact of skin cancer.
Don and his wife Marian of Munster are sharing their story to draw attention to the risks of skin cancer and the importance of covering up in the sun.
68-year-old Don has a long history of skin cancer but the risks he faced dramatically escalated close to 15 years ago, when he was diagnosed with a merkel cell carcinoma, a rare type of skin cancer.
Shortly afterwards he underwent extensive surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment to overcome the poor outlook he was initially given.
A short time later he was diagnosed with a different type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and over the years he has had numerous SCCs removed and subsequent skin grafts all over his body. His operations include having his ear, eardrum, parotid nerve in the cheek (causing paralyses), right jugular vein, mastoid bone and muscle in his throat removed.
He has come close to death a number of times and now lives with the side-effects of surgery including deafness on one side, severe lymphoedema and impaired speech.
Marian said the skin cancer diagnosis and treatment, really turned their world upside down. She said her husband had endured the most incredibly invasive and aggressive procedures over the last 15 years, some of which she described as ‘horrific'.
Don knows the damage was done in his youth by not using sun protection, particularly given he grew up in a boating family that spent a lot of time outdoors.
"I know many people are shocked when they find out Don's medical treatment is the result of skin cancer," she said. "I think while Don's story is extreme, his experience also serves as a warning to be careful in the sun," said Marian.
Last August Don became the first patient to be accepted onto an immunotherapy trial being run at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Perth which is showing encouraging results for a small number of patients with advanced squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), who had previously been told their disease was terminal.
Since entering the trial he has recorded encouraging results.
Dr Annette Lim, an oncologist at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, who is running the trial of the drug cemiplimab, said she believes this drug could be a ‘game changer' for patients with this disease.
"While the results from this trial are encouraging, it's important to note there are very specific criteria patients need to meet in order to safely participate on the trial, so it is unfortunately not suitable for all SCC patients," said Dr Lim.
Our SunSmart Manager, Mark Stickland said Don's story underscores the need to cover up when the UV Index is 3 or higher.
"It's important for us all to understand that we live in a country with extremely strong UV radiation," he said.
"As long as we take the simple precautions of Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide we can be safe outside," said Mark.
"The very high number of skin cancers that are removed from Australians each year show us that many Aussies are still getting too much sun exposure."
In the latest WA Cancer Registry statistics there were more than 83,000 services related to NMSC in 2014 and 82 deaths from NMSC.
"National Skin Cancer Action Week is an ideal time to rethink your personal sun protection," he said.
Marian said she's lost count of the number of times Don has defied death, but despite everything he is an amazingly strong man who continues to have a very active life.
The Byfields have urged others to take action in the sun.
"When you hear Slip, Slop, Slap there is a reason to do this," Marian said.
"So many people, young and old, are dying from skin cancer, so be responsible for yourself and take care of your body,"
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