Tim Stobo of Ballarat, Australia, is an avid enthusiast of golf, surfing, and sailing. His regular exposure to the sun, however, may have caused him to develop melanoma, a kind of skin cancer that can become deadly if not treated in its early stages. The BMW dealership owner turned to one of Australia's leading melanoma clinics, the joint Austin/Ludwig Oncology Unit at Austin Hospital near Melbourne, where he enrolled in a CRI-supported clinical trial of a vaccine run by principal investigators, Dr. Jonathan Cebon and Dr. Ian Davis.
CRI: It’s been said that skin cancer is the Australian national disease.
Tim: The sun here is pretty harsh. We spend a lot of time sailing, surfing, swimming. Nobody used to wear sunscreen, either; some people still don’t. Even with “Sun Smart” education ads for the past 10 years, we’ve got the world’s highest skin-cancer rate.
CRI: That’s how long you’ve had the disease, isn’t it?
Tim: That’s how long I’ve known I had it. A mole that was on my wrist since I was a kid starting catching on shirts and bleeding. They excised it; it was melanoma. Then, after six years of checkups with nothing unusual, my arm started to develop tumors in all sizes, 36 of them, one after another. It got to the point where the surgeons couldn’t just keep cutting them out.
CRI: Did the experience wear you down?
Tim: I think a lot of cancer is in your head. You have to be positive and proactive; if you feel like you’re doing something, you’re not a victim. After the surgery I got radiation, and now I’ve connected with the CVC team at Austin/Ludwig. As long as there’s a plan, I’m happy.
"You have to be positive and proactive; if you feel like you’re doing something, you’re not a victim.”
CRI: How is the vaccine trial going for you?
Tim: The people are very good. I ask semi-intelligent questions, they give me responses I can understand, suggest reading I can do. They treat me like a co-researcher, in a way. And I have high hopes for the vaccine.
CRI: Do you think that you’ll be cured?
Tim: I’d be careful about using the word “cure.” I think that cancer never fully leaves you alone; it’s like having an unwanted guest in your house. I’d be glad just to have it managed successfully, the way they do with diabetes, while I continue with my life.
CRI: That sounds optimistic.
Tim: I am optimistic. At the same time I was getting all those tumors, I was negotiating to buy my own BMW dealership in Ballarat. I kept moving ahead, signed the papers, gave up a senior position at a dealership in Melbourne, and moved the family into the countryside — a lifestyle change for the better.
CRI: You seem to have fit right in.
Tim: It’s a close-knit, supportive community. Just last year the Rotary Club asked if my dealership would like to sponsor their annual golf cup. I went them one better and made it a part of the national BMW golf cup. The $6,000 we raised was given to support skin-cancer research.