If Chris Slabon learned nothing else from his battle with melanoma, it’s the importance of getting medical care as early as possible.
But if there’s a second lesson, it might just be how important it is to take things as they come.
Slabon was diagnosed with skin cancer in October 2012. In fact, he received the news the day he started his new job teaching paramedic care at Fanshawe College.
His journey began at age 44 with the discovery of a small mole on his chest.
“I joke about it now, but you see the public service campaign about moles and how they look, they give you this A, B, C, D chart . . . they make it too complicated,” Slabon said. “It should just be if your mole looks weird, get it checked out.”
Which is what he did.
Slabon’s doctor said she didn’t think it was anything, but decided to have a biopsy scheduled nonetheless, just to be sure.
A couple days later he was diagnosed with melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer and one of the most frequently diagnosed cancers in Canada.
The first thing he did was to stay away from the Internet, which while often an invaluable resource is something Slabon said is too often filled with inaccurate information, particularly about cancer.
“I waited until I met the doc, which was within a day or two, and that’s when I started asking the big questions, what the mortality rate was, what the treatment plan was,” he said. “My thought was I’m going to give this my best shot and just go with it. I’ve stuck to that kind of philosophy, whatever comes up you just have to deal with it.”
A husband to wife Katie and father of four young children, the initial treatment he was on impacted his life dramatically and was not effective.
Started on the drug Interferon in January 2013, by that October it was clear he wasn’t responding.
However, in January 2014, he was chosen to participate in a double-blind clinical trial for the drug Cotellic that proved effective at treating his disease while offering minimal side effects.
“It’s almost like winning the lottery, finding this drug that actually works,” Slabon said. “There’s no guarantee any of this stuff will work, they are essentially experimenting on you. But this is what drives medicine. So I figured, what have I got to lose taking part?”
Today Slabon has been able to go back to regular day-to-day activities, such as canoeing, hockey and enjoying the outdoors.
He was even able to start taking karate lessons with his son.
Nobody asked Slabon to share his story, but he figured the trail was “a pretty big deal,” particularly after the study was “unblinded” and Health Canada went on to approve the drug for use.
Throughout his cancer journey, it was Slabon’s family, friends and co-workers he said gave him the strength to keep up the fight.
He didn’t want cancer to be the reason for not going on vacation or family camping or anything like that.
But he concedes his positive outlook, the desire to “take things as they come,” is something that might have proven nearly as important as finding the correct medication.
“I try to put it all in perspective. There are people who have it worse than I do. There are people at the cancer clinic, I look around, and there are people who are really sick,” Slabon said. “You just have to keep going. I always cheer for the underdog. I would rather beat the odds than whatever the other option is.”