“If it wasn’t for cancer research, I wouldn’t be here.”
Nick Schlader was diagnosed with stage 3B melanoma in 2013. He was married, the father of a young son and twin baby girls, and a newly-hired Nampa police officer. It’s been an emotional roller coaster ever since.
The low points: painful treatments, being away from his family for long stretches for treatment away from home, having to retire from his job, and the cancer spreading to his heart and brain.
The high points: Making friends with his doctors and clinic staff, finding out that family extends beyond his wife, kids, and parents to include his fellow police officers and the community of cancer patients, and the night Kathy, a nurse at St. Luke’s MSTI, called him at home to tell him the tumor on his brain was gone.
Nick’s oncologist at St. Luke’s MSTI, Dr. Silvana Bucur, worked closely with melanoma specialist Dr. Omid Hamid of the Angeles Clinic in Santa Monica to enroll Nick in leading-edge immunotherapy clinical trials, many of them requiring Nick to travel to California. Nick is on his seventh trial back in Idaho, his most successful treatment yet—getting rid of the cancer in his brain and shrinking the tumors on his heart by 30%.
“I’ll be on this drug as long as it works,” Nick says. “It’s still so new, no one knows what’s ahead. But we’re not going to limit ourselves—we’re always going to push for the best options, no matter how far or experimental.”
Meeting others who have survived cancer or are still living with it gives hope to Nick and his wife, Leslee. They’re inspired to take an active part in Nick’s treatment: to do their own research, bring their knowledge and questions to their doctors, and help each other stay positive.
“I think attitude is everything,” Nick says. “Cancer takes on such a role in your life—you have to put it ahead of everything. But it doesn’t have to take your attitude and mood—they’re the only things you can control.”
And Nick knows he isn’t in it just for himself, but for others down the line. “There has to be a starting point with clinical trials,” he says. “Someone has to be that starting point, that ‘guinea pig.’ I want to share my story with others. I’ve been through the worst, and if it wasn’t for cancer research, I wouldn’t be here. There are lots of people out there who need to know they can get through it.”