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By the time Anthony saw a doctor the melanoma had spread to his lymph nodes

Email Melanoma is likely to play a long-term role in Anthony's life — now he's marching and riding for a cure By Niki Burnside

Updated March 23, 2019 08:28:05

A composite image of Anthony from three angles, from the left, from the front and showing his scar on the right. Photo: Melanoma invaded Anthony Leach's lymph nodes after developing on his forehead. (ABC News: Greg Nelson) Related Story: Had a skin scan lately? In the future, you could have a blood test Related Story: 'When I look in the mirror I don't see a human' says lucky man Map: Australia

Cycling at dawn holds a certain kind of magic for father of three Anthony Leach.

Before 6:00am Canberra is a different place, home only to birds and peeking kangaroos grazing against a pale sky.

And after two years of cancer treatment — including surgery to remove melanoma that had invaded his lymph nodes, a failed run of immunosuppressants, and numerous further check-ups — the predawn slogs across the bush capital remain a constant comfort.

The 54-year-old was a pale child, who burnt easily in the harsh Australian sun, but, as an active cyclist, he took pains to cover up, wear sunscreen, and put a hat on when a helmet was not needed.

A man stands outside his house, holding a bicycle. Photo: Anthony Leach has not lost his love of cycling since his melanoma diagnosis. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)

But melanoma has numerous triggers, including a person's genes, the relative paleness of their skin, their family history and, unfortunately, bad luck.

Mr Leach met five out of the six criteria, proving that being sun safe was just part of the battle against melanoma, which is diagnosed in 14,000 Australians every year.

"I knew I had a spot on the top of my head and I thought 'ah, look, I won't worry about it for a while'," he said.

"Maybe if I had got it looked at a little earlier, it might not have spread to my lymph nodes."

A burden for life

After initial surgery to remove the melanoma from Mr Leach's forehead, doctors discovered it was two inches thick and referred him for further treatment.

Scars can be seen on a man's neck. Photo: After his neck dissection, Anthony required physiotherapy to ease muscle stiffness. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)

He was told he would require a more extensive surgery to ensure he would have a 60 per cent chance of a survival, which he agreed to.

The operation required a neck dissection to remove the affected area.

As a result, he no longer has a saliva gland on one side of his head and physiotherapy was necessary to ease the tension in his neck following the invasive procedure.

When the trial drug of immunosuppressants also failed to reduce the melanoma, he was placed on another trial drug on compassionate grounds.

While that has helped to reduce the melanoma, it has not been as successful as initially hoped.

Mr Leach said he knew melanoma was likely to be a part of his life long-term.

"I told them, as long as you keep taking them out when I find them, that's OK," he said.

'I worry about my family': Toll of melanoma far-reaching

A man with bandages on his neck lies in a hospital bed, a younger man next to him. They are both giving a thumbs up. Photo: Anthony's family has been a constant source of support throughout his cancer treatment. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)

Due to the nature of Mr Leach's treatment, he is at a higher risk of developing lymphedema, a swelling that can occur in an arm or leg after the removal of lymph nodes.

The advice from doctors was to stay fit, a challenge Mr Leach was happy to fulfil, even when the drugs made him tired.

He routinely joins in on morning rides with friends that go for more than 60 kilometres, taking in some of Canberra's more beautiful sights.

"You do have dark times, but I try to stay positive," he said.

"I worry about my family, because they do worry — but then they also try to be too positive as well.

"My parents have expressed to my sister … the thought of having to bury a child scares them."

Marching for a cure

Tomorrow morning, the family will join Mr Leach for the annual March for Melanoma, at Weston Park in Yarralumla, through which he has met a network of fellow sufferers.

He said the charity helped give a sense of purpose to his journey with the disease.

Melanoma Institute chief executive Matthew Browne said one person died from melanoma every five hours in Australia.

"We are working towards melanoma becoming a chronic disease instead of a terminal illness, but, until we achieve our mission of zero deaths from melanoma, we still have a lot of work to do.

"We owe that to those who have lost their lives to melanoma, and their families and friends whose lives have been forever changed."

A man looks at the view from his balcony, mountains in the distance. Photo: Doctors acted quickly to remove a melanoma from Anthony's forehead in 2016. (ABC News: Niki Burnside)

Mr Leach said medical advances meant there was real hope for those with melanoma, but fundraising was essential.

"We're getting very close … it didn't work for me, but they're now looking at the genetics behind things and having a close look at the types of the tumours and specifying a specific treatment for a specific person," he said.

"It's not one treatment suits all.

"We're hoping that these funds can help the Melanoma Institute continue with its research and to do the work that they do."

Topics: skin-cancer, health, diseases-and-disorders, charities, community-and-society, australia, act, canberra-2600

First posted March 23, 2019 08:09:25

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