Ben Debono is on the trip of a lifetime. Travelling Australia with no fixed itinerary or timeline, just the open road and his faithful kelpie Turbo.
But it’s all so bittersweet. The young tradie is on what should have been his honeymoon with new wife, Leah.
Just three months after they tied the knot, Leah died of melanoma aged 29. So instead of making beautiful memories as newlyweds, Ben has taken to the road alone with a photo of Leah in the passenger seat of his 4WD, spreading a sun safety message as he goes.
This Sunday on 60 Minutes, reporter Allison Langdon meets Ben on what would have been his one-year wedding anniversary, as he searches for answers surrounding his wife’s sudden and tragic death.
Like most Australians, Leah was sun-smart and knew the dangers of melanoma.
When she was 25-years-old Leah noticed an unusual mole on her arm and immediately had it examined by two separate doctors. They both reassured her she had nothing to worry about.
After meeting her sweetheart Ben, a self-conscious Leah had the lump removed purely for cosmetic reasons. Doctors sent off a biopsy. It was stage-four malignant melanoma.
“That’s the worst one you can get,” Ben tells 60 Minutes.
After having the surrounding lymph nodes removed, Leah was told her cancer hadn’t spread and she was given the all clear.
For the next three years, she went for regular check-ups – her last just one week before her wedding. Each time she was given the “all clear”. Leah did everything right.
Just one month after their wedding, Leah starting feeling unwell. The young couple excitedly thought they may have a baby on the way, but her GP said the symptoms were nothing more than post-wedding stress.
It wasn’t until Leah collapsed at work and was rushed to hospital that it became clear how the wrong the doctors were.
Even though she had been told she was cancer-free, it had in fact spread throughout her body. Leah never left the hospital.
“At the time of the wedding she was riddled with cancer,” says a heartbroken Ben.
“She would’ve had a brain tumour at that stage as well.”
Now, Leah’s parents and her husband are on a search to find out how the medical system could fail their daughter. How – in a country with the highest rate of melanoma in the world – can our GPs still get it wrong?
“The GP looked at it, assured her that there was nothing… Some trained professionals may not have done their job properly,” says Leah’s father, Lex.
They are also sharing their heartbreaking story in a crusade to warn other Australians about the risks of this deadly disease.
So far, on behalf of Leah $50,000 has been raised for the Melanoma Institute – and Ben has been directly responsible for at least $40,000.
Ben and Leah’s love story is one so powerful it may in fact save your life.