Olympic gold medallist Cate Campbell has opened up about the terrifying day she found out she had melanoma, a life-changing moment that’s sparked her efforts in awareness and research.
She’s joined the chorus calling on social media influencers to take more social responsibility to drive down skin cancers and stop promoting a harmful “Kardashian effect”.
Speaking at the National Press Club alongside the Melanoma Institute’s co-medical directors on Wednesday, the champion swimmer recalled the moment in 2018 her dermatologist found a mole she had almost failed to flag.
Campbell never would have had it checked if not for noticing a new scar on a friend’s arm while having brunch just a few days earlier.
She said he had told her: “If I left it even for a few months, I could have lost an arm”.
Campbell booked her skin check the same day.
“When the phone rang, (the doctor said) ‘I have good news and bad news. The mole has come back, and it’s come back as a melanoma’,” Campbell said.
“I felt the air leave my lungs. Even I, with my limited knowledge of the medical world, knows what that means – cancer. My mind began to spin out of control … Would I be a Paralympic swimmer?
“(Then the doctor said) ‘The good news is, we caught it early. It’s stage 1’. I was booked in for surgery the next day.”
Campbell said since joining the Melanoma Institute of Australia, she had come to understand how “lucky” she was.
“I have met parents who lost children, people who have lost their partners, young children who have lost their parents and whole communities torn apart,” she said.
“In the same way that cancer cells invade and monopolise healthy cells in the body, the devastation cancer leaves in its wake has a way of spreading its deadly tendrils throughout all the healthy, joyful parts of society.
“We need to change the way we think, talk and act around sun safety.”
Professors Georgina Long and Richard Scolyer from the institute said a landmark report they released earlier this year estimated that unless critical action was taken “today”, by 2030, 205,000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma and more than 14,000 will lose their lives to the disease.
The pair thanked the Albanese government for the $14.8m commitment to implement one part of the report’s recommendations – establishing a national network of melanoma nurses.
“However, implementing the report’s other key recommendations, specifically related to melanoma prevention, will take collaboration, commitment, and courage,” they said.
“We call on the federal government to commit now to a long-term, modernised sun safety prevention campaign to reach children and teens who will be tomorrow’s young adults.”
The pair also had a request for social media influencers: “Step up and use your influence for good” and stop what the institute calls the “Kardashian effect”.
“In this Insta-famous world where influencers set the cultural agenda, a tan is seen as aspirational and a sign of beauty, health and success. The feeds of impressionable young Australians are flooded with images of tanned bodies,” they said.
“Science tells us a tan is skin cells in trauma.
“Help change the national narrative around sunburn and tanning. Casual references … are everywhere.
“Normalising behaviour which we know kills has to stop. You don’t see people smoking or driving without a seatbelt on television ads for good reason. So why do you see people sunburnt?”
Campbell echoed the sentiment, telling people with large social media followings that they are being treated as “role models”.
“You have more power than you think you do. If you see something, do something,” Campbell said.