Health: Second opinion a lifesaver

Melanoma survivor Murray McLean says getting a second opinion is probably what saved his life and he's urging others not satisfied with a medical diagnosis to get another opinion.

This is Melanoma March, when awareness is raised of the skin cancer that kills up to 300 people in New Zealand every year, and McLean, who is self-employed, says he may not be here today if he had not sought a second opinion when he had a sore leg back in 2004.

The father of three went to see a specialist in Auckland after getting a large lump on the back of his right thigh and was initially told it was a varicose vein and nothing much to worry about.

But continued pain saw him get a second opinion - it was a malignant melanoma that needed operating on urgently. Almost eight years later, he is clear of the cancer, but it has cost him - and his private health insurance company - about $250,000 to fight.

"There had been a mole there [right thigh] for as long as I could remember, but it disappeared and started growing into a lump quite quickly, so I thought I'd better get it checked out.

"They said it was probably a varicose vein, but it kept growing and got a bit sore so I thought I'd get another opinion."

It was almost two months between the two visits; a period that could have been fatal if the melanoma was further advanced.

"When the test report came back [from the second visit], they got quite excited and by that time it had already got into my groin," McLean says.

"I was pretty numb when I was told. We'd just sold up everything in Auckland to return home to Whangarei, and we had three kids under the age of 8, with the youngest just 1 year old, so it was a worry."

"But after that diagnosis everything started to move pretty quickly and I didn't have much time to think. I'm thankful I had private medical insurance, too ..."

He underwent an initial four-and-a-half-hour surgery to remove the cancer and has since had a number of treatments and operations, including skin grafts and radiation therapy.

McLean says he was never a "bake-in-the-sun kind of guy", but having very fair skin, he felt getting melanoma was "just one of those things that can happen".

"Having something like this really makes you realise what is important in life," he says.

"Now I work to live rather than live to work and make a point of spending even more time with the kids."

McLean still gets regular check-ups, is a cheerleader for the "slip, slop, slap and wrap" Sunsmart message and urges people to take precautions when out in the sun - and always get a second, third or even fourth opinion if they are not satisfied with what they have been told by a medical professional.

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- Hamilton News

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