Maggie first spotted the mole on her Mum’s back when she was dressing one day – it was half the size of a pea, light pink in colour and raised. It was noticeable because Rose didn’t have any other moles, just a handful of freckles.
“Mum didn’t like to dwell on her own health issues, and shrugged it off when I asked her to get it checked. She didn’t know anyone with melanoma, but I did, and was fearful of it.”
On a visit home a month later, Maggie was alarmed to see the mole had changed to a dark brown colour. She told Rose that if she didn’t take action, she would call her GP and make an appointment without her permission.
“Mum was furious with me, and her defensiveness concerned me because I knew she couldn’t see what it now looked like. I think in hindsight, the fact it was on her back meant it was quite literally ‘out of sight, out of mind’.”
“The pandemic meant Mum had so many delays accessing treatment.”
The melanoma diagnosis was a shock to the family. Rose had very few risk factors – she had no other moles or freckles, she always wore sunblock, and there was no family history of the disease.
Tragically, after a surgery, Rose’s cancer had developed into secondary melanoma on the lungs, liver and brain.
The original mole was removed the evening before New Zealand went into the first level-four lockdown in March, 2020. It was one of the last surgeries completed before everyone went into isolation.
“The pandemic meant Mum had so many delays accessing treatment,” says Maggie.
“It frustrates me to see these delays are still plaguing our public health system now and affecting cancer diagnoses across New Zealand.”
Twelve months and two weeks after the original diagnosis, Rose died at home, surrounded by family.
“It was a real honour being able to take time away from my work and be with her, to care for her and to see how beautifully supported she was by Dad and my siblings,” says Maggie.
“I’m so grateful we could provide that level of care for her and keep her dignity.”
“I would encourage people to attend medical appointments with their loved ones.”
Throughout Rose’s journey, Maggie used her research skills to explore every treatment option available. She also acted as Rose’s support person – attending medical appointments and meticulously recording every detail.
“Being an advocate for my mother was my greatest privilege. There were so many difficult decisions to make along the way and Mum didn’t always have the capacity to make them.
“I would encourage people to attend medical appointments with their loved ones who have melanoma. Mum’s Oncologist said she rarely saw whole families attending appointments and appreciated how invested we all were in Rose’s fight. That support is crucial, being informed means you don’t have your head in the sand when it’s time to get treatment.”
Maggie continues to raise awareness around melanoma – and encourages everyone to get their skin check or mole check regularly. She now has an annual skin check services with Molemap, as do other members of her family.
“I know by talking to people that the majority don’t understand that New Zealand has the highest rates of melanoma in the world, which is nothing to be proud of,” says Maggie.
“We had no family history of the disease and melanoma wasn’t a cancer we discussed much before Mum’s diagnosis. I only wish the mole was not in such a hard-to-reach place and we could have spotted it sooner. Maybe then we could have saved Mum’s life, or given her more time.”
Thank you, Maggie, for sharing your story. We hope everyone reading this will follow your life-saving advice – to become informed about melanoma, prioritise your health with regular skin checks, and support your loved ones to do the same.