Ryan Channells wasn’t supposed to be here this Christmas.
The volunteer firefighter at Wauchope, a town in the Mid North Coast region of NSW, was diagnosed with stage four melanoma in November last year.
The terminal cancer had spread from a tiny lump in his groin – that didn’t seem to appear as an initial sun spot – and had spread through his body.
Inoperable at the time, the father-of-two was told he’d be “dead by this Christmas” this year, and immediately started preparing for the first -but not before he went back out battling bushfires the next day.
“It probably did start as a spot, the usual, and I didn’t notice it,” he said.
“I noticed it when it was a very small lump but it grew very quickly. The first doctor just got blood tests and said you’re all good, good to go.
“After being male and stubborn it took three months of my missus poking me telling me to change doctors. That GP, Dr Jon Logie, ordered biopsies and scans that week, he was amazing.
“I was a bit blasé at first and thought they would just cut it out like they did last time.”
Mr Channells previously had a blemish size melanoma cut out years ago.
He was then referred to his oncologist Dr Georgia Ritchie who he said was equally amazing, putting him forward for a trial at Melanoma Institute Australia.
By December 5 he’d started taking the drugs which worked immediately.
“They were amazing. I had four tumours and one shrunk so much it’s disappeared,” Mr Channells said.
“The biggest one was almost the size of the fist and in two-three weeks it was halved.”
In February this year Mr Channells was finally able to have surgery where 20 lymph nodes were removed – three of them were cancerous and a fourth one had disappeared.
He has continued the treatment every three weeks, travelling to Sydney for infusions and back home in a 20-hour trip.
Mr Channells “crazy uncle” drives from the south of Sydney to Port Macquarie to collect him and do the round trip.
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In June he was back to work at his council job and he’s already been fighting more blazes this bushfire season.
“It’s still black everywhere around here,” he said.
“There’s still regrowth coming through but it’s all weeds. There’s still scars everywhere and there will be for another few years.
“It’s double devastation for the koalas.”
He’ll now get to spend Christmas with his family, partner Tarlie Parish and kids, Stella and Toby.
“It’s strange, I feel kind of numb,” he said.
“You’re stuck in middle of happiness and dread, as in I shouldn’t have been here, and wondering what could have been.”
Mostly he’s focused on spreading awareness about skin checks.
“My main thing is if you have a mole, or a dry patch of skin, get it checked,” he said.
“If you think something is wrong, don’t be afraid to get a second opinion – or be too stubborn.”
Mr Channells said he was grateful for Cancer Council NSW which provided financial support during his treatment, and everyone who donated to a fundraiser which amassed nearly $30,000.
“The financial stress was hitting me the most. I just thought, I can’t afford to die. They helped put a roof over our heads and feed our children.
“I did buy a couple of beers with it, but I think they’ll forgive me,” he laughed.
If anyone deserves a beer, it’s him.