Australia’s latest super-star of the pool, 18-year-old Sam Short who won gold in the 1500m at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games, is urging young Australians to start taking sun safety seriously following his own melanoma diagnosis.
Sam was diagnosed with a melanoma on his lower back in June this year whilst on his first overseas trip representing Australia. On the advice of his doctor back home and the Australian swim team doctor, he underwent surgery in Budapest immediately after competing in the World Championships.
‘It was an extremely stressful time for me and my family,’ Sam said. ‘I literally went from the pool to the operating table and had the melanoma removed along with a wider margin to ensure no cancer cells were missed. I needed 20 stitches and was left with a 6cm scar across my lower back.’
Only five weeks later, Sam was back in the pool and competing at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham where he won gold in the 1500m and silver in the 400m freestyle.
Ironically, following his 1500m victory Sam was interviewed poolside by Olympic champion Cate Campbell who had a melanoma removed from her arm in 2018. Cate, who is an Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia, is a vocal advocate for sun safety and knowing your skin.
‘I don’t think either of us realised at the time that we were both melanoma survivors,’ Sam said. ‘Our stories are remarkably similar – luckily we both caught our melanomas early before they had spread.’
Sam grew up spending many long days at the beach, being heavily involved in Surf Life Saving in Queensland before turning his efforts towards competitions in the pool. With Irish, Scottish and Dutch heritage, his fair complexion put him at higher risk for developing melanoma.
Australia has the highest melanoma rates in the world, with one person diagnosed every 30 minutes and one person dying every 6 hours from the disease. It is the most common cancer in 20 to 39-year-old Australians. 95% of melanomas are caused by over exposure to UV radiation.
Like Cate, Sam is now using his profile to raise awareness about the need to be sun safe. He has joined Melanoma Institute Australia as its newest (and youngest) Ambassador and is urging teens and young adults to protect their skin from the sun.
‘I never thought I’d be diagnosed with cancer at 18,’ Sam said. ‘My melanoma was a massive wake up call, as clearly my sun safety routine during all those years spent at the beach just wasn’t up to scratch.
‘If by sharing my story I can encourage even one young Aussie to be more sun safe and regularly check their skin for changes, then it will be worth it.’
Sam’s plea comes only days before Cate Campbell and Melanoma Institute Australia’s Co-Medical Directors Professor Georgina Long AO and Professor Richard Scolyer AO address the National Press Club of Australia in Canberra.
Their address on Wednesday 21st September is titled: “Game On Mole – urgent action required to tackle melanoma, which claims more Australian lives than our annual road toll.”
‘We desperately need to change the way Australians view sun safety if we are to save lives from melanoma,’ Professor Georgina Long said. ‘Cultural and behavioural change is needed, and it is needed now,’ added Professor Richard Scolyer.
‘In my first role as Ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia, I will be travelling to Canberra to attend the National Press Club address and lend my voice to the calls for change,’ Sam added. ‘This is a conversation that Australia urgently needs to have.’
Photo of Sam Short courtesy of Wade’s Photos.