Lee Spilling’s story is the first in a five-part series with the Border Medical Association painting a picture of the care in our region for cancer patients.
It was Lee Spilling’s wife Chelsea urging him to check a mole he’d “had forever” that lead to the diagnosis of stage-four melanoma.
The Lavington man was 30 at the time, having lived in Australia for three years after moving from England.
“There’s been times I’ve jumped straight in the ocean because I’m a pom abroad, loving life – I’ll deal with the sunburn later,” he said.
“In hindsight, I think it’s absolutely foolish to ignore the warnings.
“I can remember the doctor on the phone to Peter Mac and I thought, this doesn’t sound very promising.”
Within days, Mr Spilling was in Melbourne recovering from a surgery that left 40 stitches in his neck.
In the months following, he received immunotherapy at Murray Valley Private as the cancer was found to be in his brain, lungs and bones.
Mr Spilling’s approach was always “to take baby steps”.
“I wasn’t looking years down the road thinking, I could either not be here or I’ll be healed,” he said.
“From day one I said, I’m just going to turn up when they tell me and take the pills they give me.”
So when Border oncologist Christopher Steer approached Mr Spilling about being the first patient in Albury-Wodonga to receive a new immunotherapy agent, nivolumab, he accepted.
“He started it in Melbourne and then we were able to prescribe it to him as part of expanded access to a program from the drug company,” Dr Steer said.
“On the treatment, he got well very quickly – PET scans showed there was no sign of melanoma in his body and he was able to go back to full-time work and get married.
“Since then, we’ve put a lot of other patients on, such as kidney patients, and we’ve run clinical trials of similar drugs.”
After 32 cycles of the new agent, Mr Spilling experienced side effects including arthritis and autoimmune damage to the eye.
He is now receiving treatment to resolve the issues and will check up with doctors in December.
“If that can solve that, I think I’m getting away scot-free,” he said.
“For everything else, as far as cancer is concerned, I’m laughing.
“Everything’s gone well so far and I can’t really thank everybody enough.”