John is a member of the Head and Neck Living Well Group run by the Cancer Society's Christchurch Centre. While his cancer is melanoma, the treatments John has experienced are only too familiar to us: radical neck dissection, radiotherapy and skin grafts.

Keytruda is approved for head and neck cancer too but is not yet funded for HNC by the DHBs. 

There is an overlap between skin cancers and head and neck cancer. Skin cancer of the lip is considered a head and neck cancer. Frequently mentioned causes of head and neck cancer are smoking, alcohol, HPV and sun exposure. 

The New Zealand sun is especially harsh. 

My name is John. I am 69 years old.

During the 1960 to 1980 period I spent a lot of unprotected time in the sun whilst surfing, swimming and playing a lot of cricket.

From about 1980, I started having regular skin checks with a plastic surgeon. In March 2010, I had a malignant melanoma removed from my left shoulder.

In January 2015 a lump appeared on the left side of my neck which proved to be a spread of the shoulder malignancy. This required a radical neck dissection and radiotherapy. Regular checks followed and in November 2016, lesions were removed from my shin and head; one requiring a skin graft.

Headaches over this period dealt with by Neurology. In March 2017 another lump was found on the same side as dissection and was successfully removed. A PET scan was then taken and showed no cancer in my neck or shoulder area, but that it had unfortunately spread to my lungs.

I am currently undergoing 3 weekly infusions of the drug Keytruda and after my 4th, will have a CAT scan to see what effect this is having on my cancer.

We wish John all the best with his Keytruda treatment. Thank you to Christchurch member Cosette Calder for starting to gather stories from her Christchurch group. Every story teaches us something. 

Diana Ayling

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