Richard Scolyer may not live to see out his term as Australian of the Year, and has urged the community to be bold and courageous in the fight for life.
He has been jointly awarded Australia’s highest accolade alongside his co-researcher Georgina Long for their dedication to a mission of zero deaths from melanoma.
Through their medical breakthrough, the professors have helped save thousands of lives.
When Prof Scolyer was diagnosed with incurable brain cancer in June last year, he and Prof Long developed a series of world-first treatments based on their melanoma discoveries.
The 57-year-old revealed recent scans showed his brain cancer hadn’t recurred.
“We must be bold and courageous, that’s how things change,” Prof Long told ABC radio.
“I hope my life’s extended, and I guess (there is) a small chance that I’ll be cured from this supposedly incurable cancer.”
He added he was “blown away and buoyed” by the support from the community.
The pioneering scientists have called for skin cancer to be treated as a national health priority, and for an end to glamorising tanning.
“We need a targeted screening program and greater investment in research,” Professor Long said after accepting the award at a ceremony.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the recognition of the scientists would have an impact on government.
“I see that their powerful message is a motivating factor in federal government, state and territory governments, media organisations … but all of civil society to actually really elevate this as an issue,” he told ABC News Breakfast on Friday.
Professor Scolyer said prevention was better than the cure and urged the community to normalise getting their skin checked.
In less than a decade, advanced melanoma went from being fatal to a curable disease due to pioneering work in activating patients’ immune systems.
The co-medical directors of Melanoma Institute Australia have been at the forefront of public education on sun-smart behaviour and skin cancer prevention.
In a rallying call for greater sun safety, Prof Long warned there was “nothing healthy about a tan”.
“Our bronze Aussie culture is actually killing us so we call on advertisers and social media influencers – stop glamorising tanning or using it to sell or advertise for entertainment,” she said.
The scientists asked people to imagine the outcry if smoking was glamorised the same way as tanning.
They paid tribute to families whose loved ones had died before breakthrough treatments were available.
Olympic champion Emma McKeon was named Young Australian of the Year, with teacher and community leader Yalmay Yunupingu the Senior Australian of the Year.
Australia’s Local Hero went to pastoralist and dinosaur enthusiast David Elliott.