Jodie Harper’s life was saved when he little daughter pointed to a mole on her back.
In the summers of her childhood, Jodie Harper remembers her father coming home from long, hot days spent outdoors “looking like a lobster”. As his sunburnt body healed, she’d sit and peel the dead skin off his back. “He thought it was hilarious, the funniest thing ever.”
Jodie recalls many times when her pale, freckled skin was burnt to the point of blistering. Thankfully in a single generation much has changed around awareness and attitude when it comes to shielding ourselves from the sun. It might just have saved Jodie’s life.
In late 2015 Jodie was applying make-up after a shower, watched by her inquisitive twin daughters Liv and Leni. “Liv pointed to a mole on the back of my shoulder and said, ‘Mummy, that looks different. It’s got white next to it that wasn’t there before.’ ”
Jodie didn’t even know the mole was there. “It wasn’t raised, wasn’t annoying.”
Still, she was in two minds about whether to get it checked, and ultimately made the call to visit her GP out of a sense that she should set a parental example. “If one of my friends had found it, maybe I wouldn’t have done anything. But I thought, ‘She’s seen it, she’s mentioned it, she needs to see that there are steps that you take from here.’ ”
Her doctor told her there was a minute chance it was sinister, but referred Jodie to a surgeon just in case. In the pre-Christmas rush she was given a late-January appointment and put on stand-by for cancellations. When a gap opened that week the surgeon echoed the GP’s assessment: one per cent chance, you’ll be fine.
‘You’re the one per cent’
“They did the incision and said that I wouldn’t hear anything for a few days. He rang within 24 hours and said, ‘You’re the one per cent’. That’s rung in my ears ever since.”
A second operation excised a bigger margin around the site, and Jodie endured an agonising Christmas in which her state of mind wasn’t helped by immersing herself in ‘Dr Google’ and absorbing all things melanoma. “There was a bit of panic. Every site I looked at, they all said it can go from nothing to lethal in six weeks. That stuck.”
At length she was referred to dermatologist Rosemary Nixon, “an amazing lady” who every medical person she’d seen had raved about. Dr Nixon, an RACV member, is vice president of the Skin and Cancer Foundation.
In late January, Jodie walked into Dr Nixon’s East Melbourne rooms. “Straight away she said, ‘The first thing I want to tell you is you don’t have cancer’. I needed to hear those words.”