Battle scars fuelling Lee-Ann's fight to end skin cancer
"I DON'T want melanoma to be a death sentence for anybody, it's something that is preventable.”
Lee-Ann Lovegrove takes a sip of her cuppa, pauses to collect her thoughts and continues to share her inspirational story, which began when she was just 11.
The Yeppoon mother insists she doesn't want to be labelled "a survivor”.
Even though she's got enough battle scars to fit into that category.
Instead, she'd rather be known as a melanoma awareness advocate.
"I think cancer is marketed to us from a fear perspective,” she says.
"Like it's something to fear, you don't want to have it and if you have it, it's not going to be a good thing.
"Where really, if anything, melanoma for me has put a focus more on wellness, looking after my health and thinking positive thoughts.”
Lee-Ann's melanoma story started when she was 11.
Yes, if you have a young child, please read on.
"It was just on my left shoulder blade, an itchy mole, and I would scratch away at it and it would bleed,” she recalls.
"Mum took me to a couple of doctors and one I remembered said 'Oh, we don't want you to have a scar and we don't want to give you a needle, so you'll be right, run along home'.
"At that time, melanoma and skin cancer in general was seen as an old person's disease.”
Twelve months later, Lee-Ann was diagnosed with melanoma.
"It wasn't until I turned 12, I was in grade eight at my school then, that the mole was actually excised and the pathology report came back to say it was melanoma.
"I had to have it re-excised again and given the severity of the excision had a full skin check.”
Lee-Ann returned to school life with "a great big whopping keloid scar”.
However, her melanoma journey had only just begun.
"When I was in grade 12, so I was 16, I noticed a lump pop up just above my collarbone and thought 'that's a bit odd',” she continues.
"I showed my mum, who took me to our family doctor and he arranged for me to be admitted into hospital for a biopsy on it, and within 48hours I was down in Brisbane at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. They did a full excision of my lymph nodes around the area.
"For me it was a turning point as I learnt a lot about positive thinking and how having the right mindset can support you through difficult times. A lot of people around me (in hospital) were doom and gloom and 'this is terrible, it's unlikely you will see your 21st birthday'.”
Fast-forward to 2019 and more than 14,000 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma each year.
"Sadly, one person dies every five hours from the disease,” Melanoma Institute Australia CEO Matthew Browne says.
"It is also the most common cancer affecting 15-39-year-old Australians.”
This Sunday, Lee-Ann will join hundreds of people from all walks of life at the second annual Rockhampton Melanoma March.
Last year's inaugural event raised more than $20,000 towards the fight against the deadly disease and funds raised from the 22 marches across the nation in 2019 will support a national collaborative research project to benefit all Australians with melanoma.
"For myself, it's about standing for something that with awareness is preventable and obviously something that's touched my life, but it's also touched my family,” Lee-Ann says.
"My daughter, Sienna, has seen me after many surgeries stitched up and black and blue from bruising, so she understands the importance of being sun safe. My sister's had a melanoma and her husband's had melanoma as well, so as a whole, melanoma has really affected our family.
"I think on the day of the march, we will all be very proud and grateful that there is this research and to think there is a melanoma institute out there designated to finding a cure.
"I don't want melanoma to be a death sentence for anybody. It's something that is preventable. If we can catch it in its early stages, it doesn't have to kill people.”
Lee-Ann still has regular skin checks every six months.
She says every check-up has that "element of what if”.
However, having regular skin checks is all about taking responsibility for yourself and your health.
"It's also important to trust your intuition. If you think there is something not right or a mole has changed, insist on a biopsy to be done. After all, it's your body and your health,” she says.
Just days after signing up for this weekend's Rockhampton Melanoma March, Lee-Ann had another melanoma removed from her upper right arm after attending her skin check-up.
"A mole on my arm felt a bit raised and I thought it looked a bit different, even though it had been there for years,” she says.
"The timing of it is pretty ironic but serves as a good reminder to myself as to why I have a skin check every six months.”
Lee-Ann says raising awareness about getting regular skin checks is equally important to raising funds for vital research.
"I think the general public are really misinformed when it comes to melanoma in lots of areas,” she says.
"Melanoma doesn't discriminate and it doesn't fight fair. It doesn't care whether you have had a lot of sun exposure in your life or if you have always worn a hat and sunscreen.
"It's not a friend to you and it's going to infiltrate anyway it can, and if you don't get it in its early stages you may feel fine.
"However, it's off in your lymphatic system or if it gets past that it's off in your organs before you actually know what you're dealing with.”
In the lead-up to Sunday's event, Melanoma Institute Australia is inviting the local community to register, get a team together and encourage friends and family to donate to support life-saving research.
"We are working towards melanoma becoming a chronic disease instead of a terminal illness, but until we achieve our mission of zero deaths from melanoma we still have a lot of work to do,” MIA CEO Matthew Browne says.
"We owe that to those who have lost their lives to melanoma, and their families and friends whose lives have been forever changed.
"Melanoma March is an opportunity to raise vital funds to change the treatment landscape of melanoma, not just in Australia but across the globe.”
For information, to register, or to sponsor a walker, visit www.melanomamarch.org.au.
Where: Sir Raymond Huish Drive, Victoria Park Top Oval.
When: Sunday, March 10, 6.30am registration, 8am march starts.
Pre-register at www.melanomamarch.org.au.