26 year battle with cancer

MONICA TISCHLER
Last updated 05:00 04/03/2014
Phil Richards
KEEPING COVERED: Phil Richards, 65, has had an ongoing battle with melanoma since 1983.

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Phil Richards has had skin cancer removed from all over his body.

His ears, nose, head, shoulder and leg have all been touched with the specialist's scalpel in on-and-off battles with melanoma that began in 1983.

Mr Richards' more recent scare was five years ago when a mole on his right thigh was identified as life-threatening.

Melanoma had also spread to lymph nodes in his groin.

"You walk out of the doctors in shock and know that your job here isn't finished but you might not have a say in it.

"It's a horrifying feeling," the father of four says.

This month, the Melanoma Foundation of New Zealand hopes to create awareness about the disease that affects more than 4000 Kiwis a year.

Mr Richards, 65, puts his melanoma battle down to simply "too much time in the sun".

"As a kid I'd be out in the sun all day getting crisp.

"We all thought it was good to burn early so we'd have a good base tan for the summer.

"In those days there wasn't the emphasis on skin cancer as there is now," he says.

The New Lynn resident is determined to change the mindset of Kiwi youth.

"I say to young people on the beach ‘you're getting too pink, you don't want to end up like me'.

"I'd like to think it sticks with them and I hope they get up and find some shade."

Both older and younger generations need to be aware of the dangers of harsh rays, he says.

"Older people need to get checked in the same way they would for prostate or breast cancer.

"Young people tend to lose track of time if they're out drinking in the sun.

"It's a dumb thing to do but unfortunately a very Kiwi thing to do," Mr Richards says.

Melanoma Foundation chief executive Linda Flay says knowing your skin is key.

"That's how we can detect change and catch melanoma early, through routine and regular self-checking," she says.

GO SPOTTY DAY

Schools and businesses are encouraged to wear spotty clothing on March 28. A gold coin donation will be made by everyone dressed for the occasion, with proceeds going to the foundation. Call 0800 463 526 for more information.

IRONMAN NEW ZEALAND

More than one thousand athletes competed in the Taupo challenge on Saturday to raise awareness and funds for melanoma. Among them was Waitakere resident Dan Rushton, 46, who completed the swim, bike and run. Mr Rushton decided to sign up for the 226-kilometre event after his colleague's daughter was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. "I've seen the stats. About 300 Kiwis lose the fight against melanoma a year which is higher than the road toll," he says. With the help of sponsorship from friends and family, Mr Rushton hopes to raise $2000 for the foundation.

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SYMPTOMS

● A change in colour, shape or size of an existing mole or freckle

● An unusual shape or colour

● An itchy or bleeding mole or freckle

Visit melanoma.org.nz for more information.

- Western Leader

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