Skin cancer almost killed Australian man

Matt Kean thought he had done everything right and never thought he could get sick at the age of 38 – until one look changed his life.

Days before Christmas, with the removalists coming and the family home sold, Matt Kean got a devastating diagnosis at the age of 38.

The father-of-two admits they had been distracted at the time, having just received a promotion that would require him to move his family Interstate to take up a role as the principal of a New South Wales primary school.

It had taken months to sell the family home in Tassie, book removalists and organized to cross the Bass Strait on the Spirit of Tasmania.

Mr Kean was thinking of the future but it took a ‘look’ from his dad for him to realize they had been concentrating on the wrong thing.

Just before Christmas 2016 – when everything had already been set in motion for the move – Mr Kean got a devastating diagnosis.

A biopsy on a lump on his leg was cancerous. He had first noticed it during a working bee to get his home ready for sale, a month earlier, but only got it checked out after he dad noticed it.

“The look on his face – my dad gave me a look of disbelief that I would leave it for that long – at age 38,” he said. “It wasn’t my proudest moment.”

The cancer was found to have spread to the lymph nodes of his right groin and Mr Kean was forced to cancel his move, undergoing surgery on December 23 to get the nodes removed.

The prognosis for his recovery was unclear, some had told him to “get your affairs in order,” while others were saying “you’ll be fine”.

It wasn’t until March that they got a clearer picture, with scans at Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Center indicating there had been no further growth.

Hopeful that he had beaten the disease, Mr Kean made the decision to go through with his relocation to Albury, while also continuing to get regular check-ups.

But months later, a routine scan revealed the cancer had spread to lymph nodes in his pelvis, and it had progressed from Stage 3, to Stage 4 cancer. There were not very many good options at this point and Mr Kean decided to have immunotherapy, which was a new treatment at the time.

“The prognosis at the time was if it worked, I should get eight to 10 years, which was a bit hard to swallow,” he said.

“On the plus side, if I had been diagnosed seven years prior, I would basically be planning a funeral.”

It’s not like Mr Kean didn’t protect himself. As a red head, they would always use sunscreen when at the beach or on sunny days, and would not walk around without a shirt.

“I put on a sunscreen for one reason – because it hurts to get sunburnt,” he said.

“I could go from Lilywhite to sunburnt in five minutes.”

But he believes it was all the hours they spent outdoors on overcast or wintry days in Tassie’s cool climate that did the damage. Mr Kean did a lot of outdoor activities, including in his role as a teacher.

“I would be teaching PE and would never wear a hat when it was overcast, I only wore it when I could feel the sun – I never worried about the UV,” he said.

“I was coming home windblown – or so I thought – when I was actually probably sunburnt.

“Should I have a sunscreen on? Absolutely. I didn’t realize UV ​​was a big issue. ”

Nowadays Mr Kean, 44, has a passion for telling people about the dangers of UV and wants everyone to check levels so they understand when they should be protecting themselves.

“I now know it can be a 20C day in Hobart but the UV could be 12,” he said.

Cancer Council’s slogan Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide, is aimed at protecting people from the unseen impacts of UV exposure, with people advised to follow the measures when UV levels are 3 or higher. A UV level of 11 or higher is considered extreme.

“As a country we need to change our whole thought process,” Mr Kean said.

“I say to my (school) kids, download the UV app, it’s not Rocket science and don’t wait for someone to tell you to put a hat on, do it yourself.”

Mr Kean has been cancer-free for two and a half years and is now focused on spreading the message so others don’t have to go through the same thing.

“Did that month (delay) hurt me? I’ll never know, ”they said.

“If I can talk to my kids and put them in a position to make sure they are looking after themselves, and spread the message, I think my job has been done.

“I have to rely on a Cure for my Longevity, but it’s all about prevention for them.”


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