Channel 7 presenter Kirstie Fitzpatrick warns after a ‘strange’ discovery led to a ‘terrifying and overwhelming’ cancer diagnosis
7NEWS anchor Kirstie Fitzpatrick issues an urgent warning after her world was turned upside down by a “painful” injury to her elbow.
After the knot was removed “for cosmetic reasons,” the 27-year-old Canberra journalist later received a call that would change 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 heard my name and the word cancer in the same sentence,” Kirstie tells 7Life.
Kirstie was only 19 at the time and was starting her studies at Macquarie University in Sydney for two weeks after making the major move from her childhood home in the regional town of Orange, New South Wales.
A few weeks before the sea change, the lesion on her elbow appeared “overnight” and began to “grow rapidly and not go away.”
“It was sensitive to the touch, had an odd texture and shape, was flesh-colored, rough, and painful.”
Concerned about the “weird” mark, Kirstie visited several pharmacists and doctors, who encouraged her to “omit it for cosmetic reasons so you don’t have to worry about it.”
After it was removed, she “lived her life for three weeks and didn’t think twice…until I got a slightly scary phone call.”
Kirstie was in her dorm at 7am on a Saturday morning when her phone rang – it was her doctor.
“I couldn’t understand why my doctor was calling me, and I found it quite strange,” she says.
“All of a sudden she started throwing away words like ‘aggressive’, ‘abnormal’ and ‘unusual’.
“Then she said the word ‘cancer’ and that was the first time I heard my name and the word cancer in the same sentence. With 19
“It was very, very scary.”
Kirstie was diagnosed with an extremely rare form of skin cancer that could not be categorized.
The future journalist “broke down in tears” before calling her parents, who immediately made their way from Orange to take her home.
“And with that, Sydney University was done for me and I started to work out my next steps.”
Despite the “overwhelming” news, Kirstie decided to wake up “with a smile on her face” one morning.
“I thought, ‘I have this.’ I’ll be fine “Everything will be fine,” she says.
“I think there’s something very profound about having absolutely no control over what’s going to happen, but realizing that you have control over what the next steps are, in terms of how you go about it .”
While she deals with the removal of the cancer cells, Kirstie says it was “quite exhausting” as she had to keep traveling to her oncologist in Sydney to make appointments.
“It’s that feeling of the unknown, just having no idea what that means. What that would mean for my life. What that meant to me.
“I was definitely scared.”
Suffering from such a rare form of skin cancer, Kirstie’s case progressed from pathologist to pathologist to becoming Head of Pathology at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney.
“Nobody knew how to recognize that,” she recalls.
“As a result, it was classified as an aggressive form of melanoma, but to this day we don’t know exactly what it was or what caused it.”
Kirstie underwent “rather invasive and major surgery” to remove her lymph nodes and cancerous cells.
Although the surgery was a success, Kirstie was unable to move her arm for six weeks – she had to relearn how to drive, shower and even bend her elbow.
“Within a few weeks I got the results back saying the cancer was localized in that area.
“So there was no spread to the lymphatic system or blood, so it was isolated during surgery, which was good news.”
Kirstie continues to have her skin checked every three months – and has discovered 15 to 20 more lesions, moles and bumps along the way.
She had to undergo two more surgeries to remove potentially cancerous cells.
“It was and is a big part of my life,” she says.
In this part of her journey, she had to think about what her future would hold now while worrying about whether the cancer would return.
Kirstie emphasizes that she’s never been one to tan consistently without sunscreen, and that cancer never ran in the family.
“It’s not necessarily directly related to sun exposure,” she says of her rare skin cancer.
“Well I like every other teenager a decade ago, I certainly loved being on the beach but I wore sunscreen, was careful in the sun and covered up.”
While that part of Kirstie’s life was “scary and overwhelming,” she is “in a way grateful” for it leading her to become a TV presenter.
“If it hadn’t happened to me, I wouldn’t be a journalist,” she admits.
“When I left school, a careers advisor told me that journalism jobs were dying and that it was a risky business to pursue.
“So I enrolled in a marketing and media degree, which wasn’t my passion.
“I always wanted to be a journalist. I’ve always wanted to tell stories.
“When I was considering my options after the surgery, I actually enrolled at Charles Sturt University for a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism.
“This kick brought my journalism studies to life and led me to the path that I have now taken in my job and in life.”
Alongside her work 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 program that “gives her a better insight into how skin works and helps me understand my own journey with skin cancer.”
Today she is an ambassador for Skin Cancer College Australasia where she shares her story, advice and debunking common beliefs about skin cancer.
“Check your skin regularly,” she insists.
An exam will examine your skin closely – checking your arms, legs, stomach, between your toes and under your fingernails – for anything that looks a little unusual.
“Anything that is sore, scaly, bleeding, tender, or changing shape, size, or color. Is it abnormal? Does it feel different?”
She encourages people to have a partner or friend help them examine the top of the head and behind the ears.
“If you notice anything that’s different, see a accredited skin cancer specialist so they can perform a full-body skin exam and make sure there’s nothing to worry about.”
Kirstie believes her case is a clear example that skin cancer isn’t just a disease that affects older people — and that it’s not just a summer disease.
“We get into the habit of only putting sunscreen on in the summer or forgetting to reapply it,” she says.
“Australia also has one of the highest UV levels, so protection is advisable even in the dead of winter.
“We all think we are invincible and tell ourselves it will never happen to us – until it happens.”
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