With a full-time job and twin five-year-old girls, Jodie Harper doesn’t have a lot of spare time to spend waiting around the doctor’s office for a skin check.
Although she had a small mole removed from her neck ten years ago, Jodie never had any unusual-looking moles that she could see. So, like many Australians, she didn’t think a visit to her GP for a skin check was urgent or necessary.
Her behaviour and understanding of skin health changed drastically when her daughter Olivia noticed a strange spot on her shoulder.
Rather than pushing it to the back of her mind, Jodie scheduled an appointment with her doctor.
“My GP said, ‘You don’t need to worry as there’s probably about a 5% chance of it being something sinister, but I’ll send you to a plastic surgeon to get it cut out and tested. Don’t worry if you can’t get in before Christmas,'” Jodie said.
“When I called the surgeon there was a three or four month waiting list but I put myself down for a cancellation and ended up going in on the 7th of December.”
The surgeon removed the spot and told Jodie he didn’t expect to speak to her again until her post-op appointment a week later.
“He called me within two days to say it was a stage one melanoma,” Jodie said.
A second operation was promptly scheduled to remove a wider area of skin around the mole and be certain Jodie was clear. She was told not to panic and that she was very lucky they had removed it early but she should make an appointment with a specialist dermatologist to discuss her skin health.
“When I went back to my surgeon he said ‘there’s this amazing dermatologist called Dr Rosemary Nixon, you should try and get in to see her'”.
“He was the second or third person who had said that to me, so I thought I must definitely see Rosemary.”
Like everyone else who hears Jodie’s story, Dr Nixon was surprised to find out how the melanoma had been discovered.
“She was amazed when I told her my five-year-old daughter found it. Rosemary thinks Liv’s going to be a dermatologist or maybe a policewoman, she is so observant.”
“It’s just phenomenal what this little person has done. I could have had the mole for two weeks or I could have had it for 20 years, I had no idea whatsoever. And good old Dr Google told me moles can change from something benign to something lethal in just six weeks, so that played around in my head a lot,” Jodie said.
“With two daughters, I can’t take any risks.”
Jodie said she wants other Australia families to take skin checks more seriously.
“Families and friends have to watch each other and say something if they notice changes.”
Jodie also thinks we have got to treat our skin health as a priority, as we do with other health conditions.
“Women are so conscious about getting pap smears every two years – it’s drummed into us from our late teens – but skin health just isn’t considered in the same vein,” Jodie said.
“It’s solely up to us to take the initiative. We have to be more mindful and active in scheduling our skin checks.”
Jodie said she had seen a lack of regard for skin health time and time again when telling her story.
Jodie hopes Australians can learn from her story. Especially the people who, like her, don’t sunbake but also don’t take complete care of their skin.
“I’ve never been somebody to sunbake but I did get incidental sunburn all the time,” Jodie said.
“Now I don’t leave the house without sunscreen on my whole body.”
While Jodie settles back into work after a very busy couple of months, Olivia and her twin sister, Leni, start primary school, where Olivia is making sure everyone knows that she once saved her mum’s life.
“I heard Liv telling one of the teachers at childcare last week that she’s a lifesaver,” Jodie said.