Tahlequah Daily Press

October 29, 2013

A sporting chance

Words of wisdom from friends, and perpetual precautions, have helped local cross country and track coach David Spears defeat melanoma.

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — bjohnson@tahlequahdailypress.com

David Spears knew he would be susceptible to some sort of ailment if he overexposed himself to sun light. Sure enough, Spears' worst fear came true.

"Basically, being a red-headed white guy, I got melanoma — skin cancer, obviously," Spears said. "I guess it was back in 1999, I had a big black-looking irregular margin — ugly-looking growth — in the middle of my back."

At the time, Spears didn't think anything of it. As a 41-year old, he still figured he was invincible.

"I ignored it," he said. "When you think you're the Man of Steel, you think nothing is going to happen to you."

Nearly a year later, one of Spears' friends told him he ought to have the abnormality on his back checked out.

"I had a biopsy, and it makes anyone nervous when you mention the C word," Spears said. "And the doctor said, 'yeah, it's malignant.' So he went and cut the thing off, and then he said, 'you may want to find you a doctor and get some treatment on this thing, or come back every six months to have a check up.'"

At that time, another surgeon told Spears that there was a 95 percent chance that the melanoma wouldn't come back.

It did.

In February of 2002, Spears noticed what he described as "a golf ball under my left arm. It was a dead dud and didn't hurt, and you know it's not good."

It wasn't.

The melanoma returned in Stage 3 form.

"Naturally, I'm scared to death," Spears said. "...I went and had the surgery the Friday before Spring Break, and the doctor said I'd probably have to go back every six months. And I still do that."

As cross country and track coach for both Tahlequah varsity and junior high, Spears is outdoors quite frequently. But he takes preventative measures to ensure the melanoma doesn't come back.

"I've got this big goofy hat, and I wear that stupid-looking hat at track and cross country meets," said Spears, whose junior high boys cross country team won the Metro Lakes Conference and state championships this fall.

"(The hat) has SPF (sun protection factor) in it. I also have long-sleeved shirts on. I'm really, really careful. I'm like Oreo white now, but that's kind of the sacrifices you make. And really, it's a non-sacrifice so you don't get it again."

Spears said he has now been void of cancer since somewhere during the 2002-2003 timeframe. He said being in solid physical condition helped him during the procedure and is still a huge factor in keeping it from coming back.

"I was in really good shape when I went into that surgery," Spears recalled. "I think that helps with you recovery, and I think it helps you whip it. I think the better shape you're in, the better shape you're in to fight it."

And Spears stills remembers words from a friend the night before his last surgery.

"He said, 'you control it, it does not control you,'" Spears said. "Those words still reverberate off my brain all the time."