Last summer, 44-year-old Scott Gmur was in great shape. The 210-pound former minor-league hockey star, widely-known and well liked in his Abbotsford community, was working out with his teenaged son, helping him prepare for the coming school sports season.
“I had a six-pack and lots of muscle,” Scott says. “I felt like I was back in high school.”
Then he found a small lump in his armpit. A biopsy revealed that it was stage four, metastatic melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. What had begun 10 years ago as a mole on Scott’s abdomen that doctors had removed, confident all the cancer was gone, was now back.
Scott has lost 40 pounds since his cancer returned. Tumours have spread all over his body. “My stomach is swollen right out and I have four tumours on my brain. They just keep developing – it’s tough.”
Scott has had every type of treatment available – a surgical biopsy to remove the lump under his arm, radiation therapy to his pelvic area and his brain, and chemotherapy. He’s also had injections of a new immune-therapy drug that encourages his own T-cells to attack the cancer.
“We’re doing as much as humanly possible,” says his wife Elaine. “We would have sold everything we owned to go to the States or even further away, if it meant Scott would get better treatment. But we have the best treatment and care right here in B.C.”
Scott’s cancer has become a family and community affair – Elaine and their son and daughter are actively involved in his day-to-day care, his parents and three sisters organized two sold-out fundraising events and Scott’s many friends and colleagues are lining up to show their support.
“I’ve been blown away by all the attention I’m getting,” Scott says. “People come up to me and literally hand over donations. We are very grateful.”
The family has partnered with the BC Cancer Foundation to invest the money in research at the BC Cancer Agency, for the benefit of other melanoma patients. And there is some good news on that front: a team of Agency scientists have invented a hand-held optical wand that can detect skin cancer immediately, without a surgical biopsy. After very positive clinical trials, the device is ready to be developed for widespread use in early detection of the disease.
The Cause of Melanoma
The irony of Scott’s case is that even though he’s always worked and been active outdoors, his melanoma wasn’t caused by overexposure to the sun. But he and his family are still determined to spread the prevention message.
“Scott was doing everything right,” Elaine says. “He was physically fit, he was strong, he never smoked or drank. But melanoma is an active person’s disease. And kids don’t realize what the sun and sun tanning or just one small mole can do.”
“Summer is coming,” Scott adds. “We need to make people aware that anyone can get melanoma. It could be you at any time. And there’s no way you can plan for this. It all happens so quickly.
“But with research there’ll be new medicines, and if the medicine is there right away, you have a chance. I’m not giving up.”
Learn more about melanoma and other skin cancers, including risks, signs and symptoms and prevention, at the BC Cancer Agency website.