TV presenter issues warning after a ‘strange’ discovery led to ‘frightening and overwhelming’ diagnosis
7NEWS presenter Kirstie Fitzpatrick is issuing an urgent warning after her world was turned upside down by a “painful” lesion that grew on her elbow.
Having had the lump removed “for cosmetic purposes”, the 27-year-old journalist from Canberra later received a call that would change the course of her life.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: 7NEWS presenter Kristie Fitzpatrick speaks at the Australasian Skin Cancer Congress.
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“It was the first time I ever heard my name and the word cancer in the same sentence,” Kirstie tells 7Life.
Kirstie was just 19 at the time, and two weeks into college at Macquarie University in Sydney, having made the big move from her family home in the regional NSW town of Orange.
A few weeks before the sea change, the lesion on her elbow appeared “overnight” and began to “grow rapidly and wasn’t going away”.
“It was sensitive to touch, a funny texture and shape, flesh coloured, rough and painful.”
Becoming concerned about the “strange” mark, Kirstie visited several pharmacists and doctors who encouraged her to “cut it out for cosmetic purposes and so you don’t have to worry about it”.
After having it removed, she “got on with life for three weeks and didn’t think twice… until I got a bit of a scary phone call”.
Kirstie was in her college dorm room at 7am on a Saturday when her phone rang – it was her doctor.
“I couldn’t understand why my doctor was ringing me and I thought it was quite strange,” she says.
“Suddenly she began throwing out words such as ‘aggressive’, ‘abnormal’ and ‘unusual’.
“Then she said the word ‘cancer’ and that was the first time I ever heard my name and the word cancer in the same sentence. At 19.
“It was very, very scary.”
Kirstie was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of skin cancer that could not be categorised.
The future journalist “burst into tears” before ringing her parents who immediately made the journey from Orange to take her back home.
“And that was university in Sydney done and dusted for me, and I began the process of working out what my next steps were.”
Despite the “overwhelming” news, Kirstie chose to wake up one morning “with a smile on my face”.
“I thought, ‘I’ve got this. I’m going to be fine. It’s all going to be fine’,” she says.
“I think there’s something quite profound about having absolutely no control over what’s going to happen but realising that you are in control of what your next steps are in terms of how you cope.”
Diving into the process of having the cancerous cells removed, Kirstie says it was “pretty intense”, with back and forth travel to her oncologist in Sydney for appointments.
“It’s that sense of the unknown, just having no idea what this meant. What this was going to do for my life. What this meant for me.
“I was definitely frightened.”
As Kirstie had such a rare form of skin cancer, her case progressed from pathologist to pathologist, all the way up to the head of pathology at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.
“Nobody knew how to identify this,” she recalls.
“As a result, it was classified as an aggressive form of melanoma but to this day, they still don’t know exactly what it was or what caused it.”
Kirstie underwent a “quite invasive and major surgery” removing her lymph nodes and cancerous cells.
While the surgery was a success, Kirstie could not move her arm for six weeks – having to relearn to drive, shower and even bend her elbow.
“Within a couple of weeks, I got the results back to say that the cancer was localised to that area.
“So there was no spread to the lymphatic system or to the blood, so they had isolated it during that surgery, which was good news.”
Kirstie continues to get her skin checked every three months – and has discovered 15 to 20 more lesions, moles and bumps in the process.
She has had another two operations to remove potentially cancerous cells.
“It has been, and still is, a big part of my life,” she says.
This part of her journey involved thinking about what her future would now look like while “worried” about whether the cancer would return.
Kirstie stresses that she was never someone constantly tanning without sunscreen and she has no family history of cancer.
“It doesn’t necessarily link it directly to sun exposure,” she says of her rare skin cancer.
“So I like every other teenager a decade ago, I definitely loved to be at the beach but I did wear sunscreen and I was careful in the sun and I covered up.”
While this part of Kirstie’s life was “frightening and overwhelming”, she is “grateful in a way” as it led her to becoming a TV presenter.
“If this hadn’t have happened to me, I wouldn’t be a journalist,” she admits.
“When I left school I was told by a career adviser that jobs in journalism were dying and it was a risky business to get into.
“So I enrolled in a marketing and media degree which was not my passion.
“I’ve always wanted to be a journalist. I’ve always wanted to tell stories.
“So after the surgery, when I rethought my options, I actually enrolled at Charles Sturt University in a Bachelor of communications in journalism.
“That kick started my journalism studies and that’s led me on the path I am now with work and with life.”
Along with working at 7NEWS Canberra, Kirstie developed a fascination with dermatology and why certain skin conditions and cancers develop.
In August 2021, she enrolled in a degree that gave her “a better insight into how the skin operates and helps me understand my own journey with skin cancer”.
She is now an ambassador for the Skin Cancer College Australasia, sharing her story, advice and squashing common skin cancer perceptions.
“Check your skin regularly,” she stresses.
A check involves examining your skin intensely – paying attention to your arms, legs, stomach, in between your toes and under your fingernails – for anything that looks a bit abnormal.
“Anything that might be sore, scaly, bleeding, tender, changing in shape, size or colour. Is it abnormal? Does it feel different?”
She encourages people to get help from a partner or friend to check the top of your head and behind your ears.
“If you do notice something that’s different, find an accredited skin cancer professional so they can do a full body skin check and make sure there’s nothing of concern.”
Kirstie believes her case is a clear example that skin cancer is not just a disease that occurs in older people – and it is not just a summer disease.
“We fall into the habit of only wearing sunscreen in the summer or forget to reapply,” she says.
“Australia also has one of the highest UV ratings so, even in the depths of winter, protection is recommended.
“We all think we’re invincible and say to ourselves that it’ll never impact us – until it does.”
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