Cancer victim: Our young survivor

By Amy Shanks

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It was 10pm when Debbie Tait opened the door to find a grim faced family doctor, who had come to tell the family their 10-year-old son had melanoma - the youngest person in the country to be diagnosed.

Three years later Bridge Pa teenager Jacob Tait, is like any other young teenage boy - he loves to surf, ride his BMX and head to the beach. But at the time, life was put on hold when he tested positive for the aggressive form of skin cancer.

"We got Jacob up out of bed, he came in and the doctor was nearly in tears," Debbie says. "The first thing he asked was whether he was going to die, but the doctor couldn't answer him.

"No one believed it, [the mole sample] was sent to four different pathologists, because they thought it couldn't be true."

The family were in shock and the sport mad youngster, was quickly booked into a specialist. Two days later he was on an operating table, having more skin and tissue removed from the affected area on his left upper thigh.

"It was a big year," says Jacob. "I always had a mole there, but my dad was the one who pointed out that it looked a bit suspicious.

It was raised up and quite dark, like a blood blister, so he took me to the doctor."

That area of his body had never been exposed to sunlight and Debbie always made sure her children followed the slip, slop, slap and wrap rule.

"He was never allowed to get sunburnt as a child, I just didn't know this could happen. We think it may be hereditary because of where it is," she says.

Today, a scar measuring about 12 centimeters acts as a constant reminder of the ordeal and 13-year-old Jacob still has to undergo three monthly check ups with a specialist as well as a mole map every six months.

A couple of moles were also removed from his neck to determine if the others on his body were safe.

Through everything Jacob remained strong, now he wants others to be aware of the dangers of skin cancer - no matter how young or old they may be.

"Just go and get it checked up, if you leave it any longer,you could end up in a big hospital in Auckland, very sick. "I think they should maybe do a skin check in schools, when they do eye and ear checks. [Problems with] your eyes and ears won't kill you, but this could."

The Melanoma Foundation has broadened its reach to raise awareness among people 20 to 40 years old.

"When it comes to our youth, the awareness of melanoma is still low. Many youth are still ignoring sun warnings, and are not fully aware of the long-term damage being done to their skin which could lead to melanoma later on in life," a Melanoma Foundation spokeswoman said.

As in past campaigns, Melanoma March 2013 will aim to raise awareness of the need for early detection, and the need for individuals to routinely check their own skin and that of their families.

For more information, visit melanoma.org.nz.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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