Just days after rolling into Brisbane as part of this year’s Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge peloton, rider Andrew ‘Curtho’ Curthoys was diagnosed with a melanoma on his left leg.
An avid cricketer in his youth and lover of the great outdoors, Curtho has been vigilant about sun safety and annual skin checks since his dad was diagnosed with melanoma in 2002.
“Dad had been a carpenter which had required him working on many building sites over his working life. Back then, there wasn’t a real awareness of the impact of the sun or sun safety,” Curtho said.
“Like all good carpenters and builders, Dad was also a sailor, a cricketer and a baseballer; so when he wasn't working outside, he was playing outside and enjoying the lifestyle of Australia.”
Four years later, just one day after Curtho’s 41st birthday, his dad passed away from melanoma.
“Through the wonderful work being done at Mater Research, the prognosis is now much better for people diagnosed with melanoma (and other cancers); targeted treatments meant their chance of survival has increased; giving them more time with their families.
“That’s one reason why I ride; to raise the funds necessary to help the researchers help the families.”
Sadly, the passing of Curtho’s dad wasn’t the last time cancer would touch his family.
“In our family of six, five of us have been diagnosed with cancer; Dad with melanoma in 2002; Mum with kidney cancer in 2014—just after I started training for my first Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge—and then in 2016, one of my siblings was diagnosed with bowel cancer, and another has had multiple skin cancers requiring a lot of surgery” Curtho said.
“The impact of that diagnosis was immense; suddenly cancer was a whole lot closer. Yes, Dad passed away from cancer and Mum had kidney cancer, but they were older. Suddenly cancer was right on my doorstep and that’s why I keep riding with Smiling for Smiddy.”
But there was one more diagnosis to come—and this time it was Curtho going under the knife.
“I’ve had a skin check around September every year for the last 20 years and in that time I’ve had both basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) removed.
“This year’s check-up was a few days after I returned from my second Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge and, as usual, I stripped down to my undies.
“My Dermatologist was happy with my back, neck, head, arms and upper body and he could see that my legs had had a touch of the sun from the week of riding and I, rather sheepishly, explained that I hadn’t covered up one morning, which I think started the burn.
“Then he had a close look at a mole on my left calf which had been there for years and, to me, hadn’t changed—but he insisted on taking a biopsy.”
That biopsy revealed that the mole of Curtho’s calf was a Grade 1 melanoma.
“I'd just ridden 1600 kilometres with a wonderful group of people, raising funds for cancer research and next up, I was being booked in for surgery the following day!”
Due to the size and type of the melanoma, the surgeon also needed to take a skin graft from Curtho’s thigh and as he lay on the operating table, Curtho thought about his Smiddy family.
“I know I regularly have a skin check, but how many of the wonderful riders and road crew do? How many of my Smiddy team mates do? We wear hats, sun arms and apply plenty of sunscreen when doing these amazing events, but is everyone doing the other things? Are they having check-ups? Are they looking after themselves?
“When we’re on the road, we’re always sharing the sun safety message, but we really need to walk the talk and look after ourselves—and that includes having regular skin checks!
“Because of the regularity of my check-ups, I’m fairly sure my Dermatologist knows my skin better than I do, but that means he also knows what to look for—because I certainly didn’t think anything had changed with the mole on my leg.”