Sonia and Luke Lewis understand the impact of melanoma better than most.
The Lewis family are leading a Melanoma Institute Australia fundraising push at the Cronulla Sharks’ home clash with the Wests Tigers on Saturday night.
More than 100 volunteers will attempt to raise money for vital melanoma research through donations at Southern Cross Group Stadium as well as awareness of the need to be sun smart to reduce melanoma risk.
Sutherland Shire has been identified as a melanoma hot spot, with prevalence rates significantly higher than the state average.
Sonia knows the dangers of melanoma better than most. It was in March 2014, at the age of just 29, that she was diagnosed with a melanoma on her forehead.
Sonia had made a routine trip to the doctor about a freckle-like mole above her eye that had changed shape. Twice she was told it was nothing to worry about. But a third doctor agreed to remove it – and discovered it was melanoma.
Luke had his own cancer scare two years earlier when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer while playing with Penrith in 2012. A CT scan on a neck injury found a four-centimetre lump on his thyroid.
Two surgeries and a scar running from her forehead to her temple later, Sonia was given the good news that the melanoma had not spread. Then came the harrowing news from her specialist that it may have been a different story if she had waited another month before having it removed. Removing the melanoma when she did probably saved her life.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” Sonia told the Leader.
“It was really scary. Luke had just gone through his own drama himself having been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. He had undertaken his radiation a month before I went in for surgery.
“I didn’t think anything of it, to be honest. I thought I was just going in for a pretty simple procedure. Honestly when I got the call I was very shocked. But I just had to get on with it and get through it. Thankfully the outcome for me was a lot better than a lot of people.
“I just wanted to do whatever I could to raise awareness and help save lives by bringing light to such a very important cause but more importantly a disease that takes so many lives every year.”
Luke, a Clive Churchill Medal and premiership winner with Cronulla, said the family were proud to be associated with the institute.
“What these guys have done over the last how many years has been amazing,” he said.
“And we’re happy to be on board and have the opportunity to help raise some money to help these guys do what they do.
“To be honest we didn’t really know how bad it was at the time [with Sonia]. She just followed her gut and went in and wanted to get it removed. When we found out a couple of days later that it was cancerous, it was a melanoma, we just started thinking wow, how lucky we were for her to listen to her gut and get it checked.
“We were lucky we had a lot of good people around us pointing us in the right direction.”
And the Lewis family had a very simple message for young people in the shire.
“Get a skin check,” Sonia said.
“Definitely slip, slop, slap as they say. That’s been our slogan in Australia for many years. But the importance of sun smarts. Don’t lay out in the sun, don’t cook yourself. If you want a tan get a spray tan.
“It’s not worth it. So many people lose their lives because they bake themselves in the sun.”