Gill discusses her role and a new partnership with FMG. Gill emigrated to New Zealand nearly 20 years ago with her husband, Terry, and youngest son. They live in Kaukapakapa on the Kaipara coast on a small lifestyle block.
Gill qualified as a nurse in the UK over 40 years ago with a degree and specialist training in Dermatology.
Tell us about your work with Melanoma New Zealand?
I joined the Melanoma New Zealand team at the beginning of the year and absolutely love the role. A large part of it includes driving a VW Crafter pot check van to rural events to raise awareness about how to look after your skin and prevent melanoma.
I provide free spot checks to people worried about a new or changing spot by examining them with the use of a dermatoscope – a hand-held cross polarised light.
The Melanoma New Zealand team attended Fieldays again this year and provided more than 650 free spot checks and found 54 suspicious lesions (including melanoma) that were referred on for further evaluation. It is often time that prevents people getting checked, and while our free spot checks aren’t a replacement for having regular full body skin checks, we still always get a great response at rural events.
As the nurse educator for Melanoma New Zealand, I also provide teaching sessions to other nurses and in a corporate setting. There is also a patient support aspect where I respond to queries or concerns either online or by phone.
How significant a problem is Melanoma for rural New Zealand?
There is Australian research* that shows that as a farmer, you’re 60% more likely to die from melanoma than your non-farming mate down the road. So, it’s important that rural people take this issue seriously. They’re more at risk because they work outdoors, plus I think some rural people can have difficulty accessing skin checks. There’s the issue with distance to larger centres where GP specialists and Dermatologists are usually based, also life getting busy or just because they don’t think it will happen to them.
It amazes me that there are more than 6,000 diagnoses of melanoma every year in New Zealand but when I am out and about, I still meet people who have not heard of it, or about regularly checking their skin. Regular skin checks and taking swift action if you have a spot of concern are key. If melanoma is caught and treated early enough, it’s almost always curable.
Tell us about this new partnership between FMG and Melanoma NZ?
FMG came on as our exclusive rural partner earlier this year, and we’re delighted to have teamed up with such a wonderful organisation with such a strong presence in the sector. Sharing lifesaving melanoma awareness messages with rural New Zealanders is at the heart of our partnership. We had a launch at Mystery Creek Fieldays and had constant demand for information and free spot checks.
Day in, day out we are working closely with FMG team to ensure we’re educating rural New Zealanders on prevention and early detection of melanoma. It’s exciting to be able to work with the FMG team to make a real impact on the health and lives of so many Kiwis.
What are some of the simple things people can do to protect themselves?
There are several things we can do to help prevent skin cancers as they are usually linked to sun exposure and the UV radiation. Wear sunscreen every day on sun exposed areas. I do, I just keep my sunscreen (at least SPF30) in the bathroom so it is part of my morning routine – but remember to put it somewhere handy so you can reapply it every two hours throughout the day if you’re outdoors.
Sunglasses are also important to protect your eyes from damage. And wearing a wide brimmed hat and long sleeves as a physical barrier to the sun is also essential. Trying to do jobs that are inside or in the shade during the hottest part of the day is a good strategy too.
How important is it to get regular check-ups?
There are three types of skin cancer: basal and squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma. These skin cancers appear as changes on your skin, so it is important you know which spots you have and where, to be able to notice any new or changing ones. Self-skin checks are the first step and then annual skin checks with a specialist are recommended, which is particularly important for people with lots of moles as those people are at a higher risk of developing a melanoma. We have a video on the Melanoma New Zealand website that teaches people how to do a self-skin check and information on what signs to look for.
How has melanoma impacted you personally?
From a personal perspective, my family has always been sun aware even back in the UK where the sun is less harsh, as we have redheads in the family. My elder sister was also diagnosed with a melanoma in her eye (known as ocular melanoma). She was very lucky it was even detected, as it was in the back of her eye, meaning no one could see it - but she got blurred vision, so it was diagnosed and treated quickly. The treatment caused her to lose her sight in the eye, but she is still alive and kicking 15 years later! She’s never been a sun worshipper but loved to go skiing and the specialists think the reflection from the snow and high altitudes contributed towards her cancer. It’s so important everyone in New Zealand takes melanoma seriously and takes all precaution to protect themselves from the sun’s harmful rays. Your life may depend on it.
FMG is the key rural sponsor for Melanoma NZ, sharing their prevention and early detection messages, education, and advice to our rural members and clients. For more information, click here.