Ryan Channells working with Melanoma Institute Australia to raise awareness about melanoma

Ryan Channells was staring down flames in last year's Black Summer bushfires when he was also fighting another battle - with skin cancer.

Originally, the NSW North Coast father of two wasn't meant to see Christmas last year after being diagnosed with stage three melanoma which had spread to his lymph nodes.

In a groundbreaking new approach which flipped the "surgery then drugs" order of treatment the 43-year-old was given a short course of pre-operative immunotherapy and drug therapy.

As a result, the tumour that had appeared in his groin had virtually disappeared.

Follow-up surgery showed he'd had a complete response to both the drugs and the surgery and is now cancer-free.

"I took the chance ... it was better than dying," he said.

"The drugs saved my life, but the immunotherapy definitely helped."

Researchers have found that giving stage three patients a short course of pre-operative targeted treatment or immunotherapy was effective.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that assists the body's immune system to fight cancer.

The stronger a patient's response to that treatment in the first six to nine weeks, the greater the likelihood their disease would not recur after surgery.

Mr Channells admitted his oncologist was concerned the treatment wouldn't do the trick because the tumour had grown into a "fairly large lump."

"It was borderline inoperable so if I didn't shrink it down somehow I was basically dead," he said.

"They gave me until early December last year. That was when my time was up."

What had started off as a tiny lump the size of a fingernail had grown to be the size of his fist.

"My missus made me get a second opinion and I'm glad I did because he took one look and ordered scans and a biopsy straight away," Mr Channells said.

"It had turned into cancer so I saw an oncologist up here (on the Mid-North Coast)and she gave me the bad news.

"I'd just had my second child so not being able to watch your kids grow up was hard to hear."

"The drugs saved my life, but the immunotherapy definitely helped."

Ryan Channells

But while the father of two was fighting his cancer battle, he was also fighting ferocious bushfires which provided him with an avenue to keep his mind off the cancer.

"Fighting fires was something I enjoyed doing plus I wanted to do it while I still could," he said.

"When you're fighting fires at least you can see what you're fighting and it keeps you going whereas cancer is very much mind over matter.

"You have to be in the right frame of mind and be positive. It's nasty, cancer. Absolutely nasty."


His message now is a simple one.

"Go and get checked; it takes five minutes and can save you a lot of trouble.

"If you have any spots or a mole that looks dodgy or has changed appearance or is raised, get yourself checked.

"If you have a lump, get your doctor to check it out and then get a second opinion. Most doctors will tell you to get a second opinion."

"If you have a lump, get your doctor to check it out and then get a second opinion. Most doctors will tell you to get a second opinion."

Ryan Channells

Mr Channells' treatment before surgery played a large role in preventing the spread of the disease.

Remarkably, in the 75 percent of patients who responded well to dual immunotherapy given before surgery, only three percent saw their tumours return after surgery, suggesting that 97 percent would likely be cured.

'The neoadjuvant approach is a new way of dealing with melanoma and is a game changer for Stage III patients with bulky disease which has spread to their lymph nodes,' said Professor Georgina Long AO, Melanoma Institute Australia (MIA) Co-Medical Director and study senior author.

"We have flipped the 'surgery then drugs' rationale on its head. By utilising our arsenal of ground-breaking new treatments before surgical removal of the tumours, this approach is proving effective in stopping melanoma in its tracks and preventing its recurrence and spread to distant organs."

This story Ground-breaking treatment saves firey's life in battle with cancer first appeared on Port Macquarie News.