Faces of Tamworth: high school teacher and cancer survivor Greg Parker

MARCHING ON: Greg and Trina Parker are all smiles after Greg was told he was cancer-free. Photo: Gareth Gardner 170316GGF02
MARCHING ON: Greg and Trina Parker are all smiles after Greg was told he was cancer-free. Photo: Gareth Gardner 170316GGF02

Greg Parker had come-to-grips with a terminal cancer diagnosis. He had a stage IV melanoma which had spread in his body. That was more than three years ago. He was accepted into a cutting-edge immunotherapy trial and less than 18 months later, he was cancer free. It’s a remarkable and cautionary tale told with honesty and humour.

A WORLD-first clinical trial has saved the life of long-time Peel High School teacher Greg Parker, who was told 18 months ago that, his cancer diagnosis – made after a spot was found on his heel – was terminal.

Now the death-row sentence has turned into a fairytale and a story the 58-year-old industrial technology teacher wants to tell as a life lesson in vigilance.

After a ongoing battle against melanoma that has drawn on for almost three years, Mr Parker was told on Monday he was cancer-free, which he puts down to his participation in cutting-edge immunotherapy trial of the drug Keytruda.

Mr Parker was diagnosed with stage II melanoma in 2013 after being prompted to get an “unusual mole” on his back looked at.

During the visit, Mr Parker’s GP, Dr John Stewart, checked the rest of his body and found a different black spot on Mr Parker’s heel.

“He got a phone book straight away and I thought he was going to whack it with the book,” Mr Parker said.

Dr Stewart made a call and the Peel High teacher was referred to Tamworth dermatologist Dr Roderick Peek.

He took a specimen, identified the black spot as a stage II melanoma and booked Mr Parker into the Melanoma Institute Austtralia (MIA), where he had the cancer grafted.

Mr Parker said he “didn’t make a practice of walking around with his heels in the air” but had been told melanomas could present anywhere on the body and the only indicator was bleeding.

“They performed a skin graft on my heel and removed three lymph nodes in my groin,” he said.

By the end of 2014, Mr Parker’s condition had worsened.

He was told the melanoma had metastasised and progressed to stage IV – which his oncologist, Associate Professor Georgina Long, said was terminal.

Mr Parker said he was “impacted” by the news.

“I was beginning to get a bit philosophical and I thought, at 58 years old, I’d had a reasonable chance at life – but I knew the impact was greater on my wife and children and extended friends and family,” he said.

Some luck worked in Mr Parker’s favour along his journey. In January 2015, he was accepted to be a part of world-first drug trial through the MIA.

Mr Parker said he was among the first four people in the world to trial the drug Keytruda, which was administered by Associate Professor Long.

Mr Parker said the drug enhanced the immune system to attack the melanoma. 

For the first nine weeks of the trial, Mr Parker and his wife Trina drove to Sydney for one day a week, after that it was once every three weeks.

In another stroke of luck, Mr Parker said, he had accrued a lot of sick leave in his career – he’d only taken about 10 or 12 sick days in more than 30 years of teaching, which allowed him to take the regular trips to Sydney.

On Monday, just 18 months after being told his cancer was terminal, Mr Parker was told he was melanoma-free.

Now Mr Parker is marching on and he wants his story to be a beacon of hope for others diagnosed with melanoma.​