A fighting chance

Brendan Mcvilly being sun smart while gardening at home in Ocean Grove. (Ivan Kemp) 250128_05

By Luke Voogt

Brendan McVilly has a fighting chance against melanoma thanks to multiple check-ups of what at first appeared to be mole on his back.

“They’ve told me I’m a lucky one,” the 55-year-old said.

The dairy farmer of 32 years, who moved from the Otways town of Simpson to Ocean Grove in April 2020, visited a local clinic in 2016 after discovering the mole.

The clinic did not initially diagnose the spot as a melanoma, but Brendan went back in January 2017 after “it kept getting worse to the stage where it was bleeding”.

“Two days later the phone call came and they said, ‘we’ve got to get you to Geelong as quick as we can.’ Within 10 days or so they cut it out.”

Skin specialist Dr Rafael Acosta-Rojas then warned him the melanoma would return.

“‘It will come back,’ he said, ‘it might be three years or it might five years’.” Brendan remembered.

“It came back in four.”

In April 2020, Brendan noticed a lump on his left buttock.

“I only noticed it was there mucking around on the hard floor with the dog, I thought a cow might have kicked me,” he said.

He saw an Ocean Grove clinic on Wednesday, which referred him for an ultrasound that Friday and on a sleepless Thursday night he discovered another lump on his ribs.

The discovery of more lumps on his back, chest and groin led to a biopsy and PET scans, which revealed the melanoma had spread to both lungs, his small bowel and his thigh bone.

Specialists placed him on immunotherapy, a treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer.

“I was lucky – everything moved really quick because I was in the system already,” he said.

The initial treatment made him “crook” but shrunk the cancer. He has since been on milder immunotherapy that continues to attack his cancer.

“I can’t speak highly enough of my oncologist Anna Lomax, cancer nurse Donna Lever and all the other staff at Andrew Love Cancer Centre,” he said.

Brendan encouraged locals to get checked for skin abnormalities with melanoma rates in Geelong increasing over the past decade.

Among greater Geelong men, the 2015-2019 average age-standardised incidence rate for melanoma is 40.94 per 100,000, up on 33.78 the previous five years.

Like many of these men, Brendan’s melanoma resulted from his younger years.

“I’m no different to the younger ones then,” he said.

“I’d walk around in a singlet or no shirt and I never used to put on sunscreen.”

Women’s rates have also increased in greater Geelong from 27.24 to 31.64, with rates in the region for both sexes higher than the state average.

The data has prompted SunSmart to launch its new ‘Don’t delay. Save your skin’ campaign, which Brendan is happy to support, as getting checked probably saved his life.

“Everything’s going really well,” he said.

“On the last PET scan there was still a mass on my lung but that is shrinking and the others are more or less gone.

“I had another PET scan yesterday and it will be interesting to see what happens with that next week.”