Cancer fight takes man to Boston Marathon

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Cancer fight takes man to Boston Marathon, by Gary Horowitz, April 17, 2010

After completing his first Boston Marathon last year, Doug Slama had no great desire to challenge himself again in the world’s oldest annual marathon.

At least not right away.

But that sentiment changed in October, when Slama was diagnosed with stage three metastatic malignant melanoma.

“I’d say the main reason I’m going again is I wanted to prove myself again,” said Slama, 45, a Salem-based veterinarian who lives with his wife, Leilani, and their children, son, Tim, 13, and daughter, Ellie, 11.

Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer and if detected in the early stages, can usually be treated successfully. Unfortunately, Slama is not in that category.

About a week before the 2009 Portland Marathon in October, Leilani discovered a lump on Doug’s left shoulder. There was reason for concern after an initial chest X-ray, and two days after the marathon a biopsy of the tumor resulted in bad news.

Slama said that about 50 percent of people with stage three malignant melanoma die within the first two years, and “it’s not a cancer that you get a five-year cure.”

If anything, the diagnosis made Slama even more determined to run in Monday’s 114th edition of the Boston Marathon. The South Salem High and Oregon State graduate has been running 60 miles per week in preparation for the event.

“The running’s one of the ways that keeps me centered,” Slama said. “I get out there at 5 in the morning with my running friends and we solve all the problems in the world, and in the meantime we get our 10 or 12 miles in and then we’re done for the day and I just go on with my life as normal.”

But life has changed.

In December, Slama began a two-year experimental vaccine trial at Providence Cancer Center in Portland that is designed to stimulate his immune system. So far, so good. Subsequent scans have not revealed tumors.

The most difficult part was telling the kids.

But they’ve responded in positive fashion, accompanying dad on several of his treatments. The family left Thursday for Boston.

“It’s awesome. It really is,” Tim, a seventh-grader at Leslie Middle School, said of the Boston trip. (Dad’s) great.”

Slama doesn’t always feel great. Treatments leave Slama with flu-like symptoms for a few days. But it hasn’t stop him from training.

Most of Slama’s runs include treks around Minto-Brown Island Park, Bush’s Pasture Park and his South Salem neighborhood with Mike Studer, a long-time triathlete who will be competing in his first Boston Marathon.

Studer, 40, a Salem-based physical therapist, has been running with Slama for the past 2OE years. He calls Slama “an inspiration.”

“If every patient I had was like Doug Slama, I pretty much would be known world-wide because my job would be that much easier,” Studer said. “He’s positive. He accepts what he’s going through, but he’s not letting it beat him.”

Part of Slama’s motivation for this year’s Boston Marathon stems from an opportunity to increase awareness about melanoma, with an emphasis on prevention.

Slama is raising money for The Melanoma Foundation of New England and is on a team called “running for cover.”

For information or to make a donation, go to Checks can be made out to Melanoma Foundation of New England and sent to Animal Care Center Veterinary Clinic, c/o Doug Slama, 5498 Commercial St SE, Salem, OR 97306.

Ellie asked her dad recently if he planned to compete in any more marathons. Doug’s response: “I don’t know, this could be my last one,” left her uneasy. He reassured Ellie that it wasn’t because of the cancer.

All the road work through the years has taken a toll and Slama has “bad hips right now from all the miles.” Besides, there might be other goals to pursue.

“I could do a triathlon instead. I could do a lot of things,” Slama said. “But this (marathon’s) a special one.”


Several area athletes who are competing in the Boston Marathon credit Gallagher Fitness Resources in Salem for much of their success.

Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, a group congregates in front of the store to go on a run.

“I personally would not sustain marathon training for seven straight years without the support and social aspect of running with a group,” said Keizer’s Deb Lush, 33, who ran her first Boston Marathon last year and is back again.

“I think that’s probably true for all of us.”

Salem’s Chane Griggs, 55, who will be competing in her second Boston marathon, concurs.

“There’s nothing like the power of a group,” Griggs said. “Even on those rainy days, there’s nothing like that accountability.”

In addition to Lush and Griggs, other Salem-area athletes at this year’s Boston Marathon who are affiliated with Gallagher Fitness Resources include Bob Boyle, James Boyle, Charlotte Hartwig, Dan Meireis and Sue Spinney.


For Marty Silbernagel of Salem, there were no plans for a fourth Boston Marathon after running last year. But after posting a qualifying time for Boston in the Portland Marathon, Silbernagel reconsidered.

He hasn’t had any serious injuries but doesn’t want to tempt fate at age 45. As long as he’s healthy enough to compete, Silbernagel figured he should be in Boston again.

“I just don’t know how long my luck will be,” Silbernagel said. “I can definitely sense that over the years, I’ve worn down a little bit.”

But there’s just something magical about the Boston Marathon.

“Most (marathon) courses the last quarter mile people are cheering,” Lush said. “At Boston, it’s like that for the last 10 miles.”

Boston Marathon

WHAT: the 114th running of the 26.2 mile race that begins in Hopkinton Mass., and ends in Boston.

WHEN: 7 a.m. Monday (Pacific time).

Local Participants

SALEM: Matthew Azevedo, Bob Boyle, James Boyle, Douglas Carl, Jamee Drill, Chane Griggs, Charlotte Hartwig, Dan Meireis, Marty Silbernagel, Doug Slama, Sue Spinney, Mike Studer.

OTHERS: Deb Lush (Keizer), Drew Miller (Keizer), John Miller (Keizer), Yuri Chavez (Silverton), Shannon McKibben (Jefferson), Rob Kemper (Amity High School graduate), a pilot and captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, stationed in Camp Pendleton, near San Diego.

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