Real Life

REAL LIFE: Meet the brave dad fighting fires while he battled cancer

''The end was drawing near, but I wasn’t ready to give up.''

By Mitchell Jordan

Ryan Channells, 43, from Wauchope, NSW shares his courageous story:

Smoke plumed in the distance as the fire truck drew closer.
As a volunteer firefighter, I'd been coming to scenes like this since I was 16.
Nothing felt as good as helping others.
In my two-and-a-half decades of fighting fires, I'd had some close calls, though it didn't stop me from doing what I loved.
But as we approached the fire, I felt my eyelids start to close.
I was getting sleepy…
"You right?" my workmate asked.
"Yeah, fine," I answered.
I figured my recent bouts of tiredness might have something to do with my partner, Carlie, and I having a second child, Skye.
I'd been a volunteer firefighter since my teens. (Image: supplied)
Being a dad to two young kids could be exhausting but when I noticed a lump on my groin, I went to see a doctor.
The blood tests he ordered all came back fine, though neither Carlie nor I was convinced.
"Why don't you see my doctor for a second opinion?" she asked.
As soon as he took a look, he ordered an urgent biopsy and scans.
"I'm sorry," he said. "It's stage-four melanoma."
I went numb hearing the words.
"What are my chances?" I asked eventually.
The doctor explained that, at best, I'd make it one more year.
There was no treatment available because the cancer was already too serious.
One year, I gulped, thinking about my kids, Toby and Skye, both so young – would they even remember me at all?
My family means the world to me. (Image: Lindsay Moller Productions )
Being given a death sentence wasn't an easy thing to accept.
But as fires raged out of control around the whole country, I threw myself into volunteering as often as I could.
"Are you sure?" Carlie asked.
I'd never been so sure in my life – I wanted to help others while I still could.
I sometimes took short naps in the truck, but being active helped keep my mind off dwelling on my diagnosis.
The kids were too young to know what was happening to me, so Carlie and I didn't try to explain it.
But I ordered two bikes for them, which I arranged to have delivered when they were older and I was gone.
"We should get married," I said to Carlie.
We'd been together for 10 years and I was sure she was the one for me.
I knew that one day everyone has to die but the thought of how my family would manage financially without me kept me up tossing and turning far more than knowing my time was coming to an end.
I hadn't been working in my job for long and had used up all my sick and holiday leave already.
With two kids, Carlie couldn't work – what would happen to my family? I worried.
Three weeks after my diagnosis, the doctor called with some good news.
There was a clinical trial about to start and they wanted people with the same gene I had.
I was selected for a clinical trial. (Image: Supplied)
Potentially, the drug they'd give me could shrink the cancer considerably.
"But there are some risks," the doctor began, explaining that the drug would give me bad side effects like lethargy, loss of appetite and irritability.
I wasn't worried – I'd do anything to extend my life.
Everyone agreed that any negatives were greatly outweighed by the positives.
I received more good news when the Cancer Council offered financial assistance that would help my family out while I was going through the treatment.
This eased my mind a lot.
As Skye was so young, Carlie needed to stay with her.
But my uncle, Rasty, agreed to do the 12-hour round trip from Sydney to my place, then back into the city for the treatment.
My cousin, Michelle, who had also suffered blood cancer, was by my side to support me, too.
Sure enough, once the trial started, I did snap at people sometimes.
"I'm so sorry," I apologised over and over.
But after three months, the results were in – my tumour had shrunk and doctors were able to operate.
One month later, I was given the all-clear – I was now cancer-free!
With my son (Image: supplied)
I couldn't believe it.
Mere months ago, I'd been handed a death sentence.
Although doctors explained the cancer could still come back, be it in two or 20 years, it was a huge relief to know I would be here for my wife and kids, and all my friends, family and workmates who had offered so much support.
Carlie and I cried a lot, but they were happy tears.
"Let's not waste a minute," she said.
So we bought a house and started planning our wedding.
Sadly, we've had to delay our big day until her family from the UK can travel here.
But I'm being kept busy with my kids, who are now three and one, and I've returned to firefighting.
Despite everything, I feel like the luckiest man on Earth.
And I hope my story reminds people of the importance of getting regular skin checks.
Not everyone gets a second chance at life, and I'll be sure to cherish every moment I've got.
People affected by cancer can call the Cancer Council on 13 11 20 for advice.

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