Hats on for Argos coach

"If it is something that is preventable, why would I do something stupid not to prevent it?" — Rich Stubler. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

PERRY LEFKO -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

Winning the Grey Cup may have been rewarding for the Toronto Argonauts last year, but for Rich Stubler the biggest victory came in the off-season.

He beat cancer.

It began quite innocently around Christmas, after he had returned home to Texas following the Argos' championship season, and his dog, a Chihuahua named Missy, scratched him on the head around the crown where he had had a bump that he didn't consider serious. But the scratch produced bleeding that didn't abate despite a constant application of the antibiotic ointment Polysporin for more than 2 1/2 months.

At that point, Stubler decided to see a dermatologist, who took a biopsy from the affected area and two other areas of his body, suspecting he might have melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Each year in the U.S., more than 53,600 people are diagnosed with the disease. In fact, the incidents of melanoma have more than doubled in the past 30 years. The most recent research from Canada indicated 3,900 individuals were diagnosed with melanoma in 2003, of which 840 cases resulted in death.

Melanoma can appear anywhere on the skin and can develop within weeks or during the course of several years.

A week after Stubler visited the dermatologist, he was informed the biopsy taken from his head confirmed he had cancer and that he needed to have an operation as soon as possible. Ironically, Stubler was diagnosed with cancer at a point in his life when he had decided to take stock of his health by dropping more than 40 pounds because of his high-blood pressure.

"I was trying to walk and do all the other stuff and then all of a sudden they tell me I've got cancer. So what do you think about?" he said yesterday. "Part of the good part about my life is I've lived as I'd liked to have lived. I've done what I've wanted to do. Being a coach is all I've ever wanted to do in life."

His father died of cancer of the colon 17 years ago, only three months after the original diagnosis. Fortunately for Stubler, his cancer had been detected before it had significantly spread to the deep tissue.

He had the surgery here a week before training camp opened on May 29, removing a "good chunk" of his scalp and leaving him with more than 20 stitches. But the plastic surgeon, Dr. Doug Grace, did the procedure skillfully so that Stubler wouldn't be left with a permanent bald spot. More importantly, he is free of cancer.

"I consider myself lucky," he said. "I really do."

In 1993, while a member of the coaching staff of the Edmonton Eskimos, he shaved his head as part of a bet with the players, and it revealed three moles, all of which produced no signs of cancer.

As a product of his cancer scare, Stubler is wearing a hat, the first time he has done so in 36 years of coaching.

"That's probably up for review because I'm a sun person," he said jokingly. "You live in Texas, where we have sun 320 days of the year and I love the sunshine, but now I've got a collection of hats. But, yeah, I'll wear a hat all the time now.

"I grew up in altitude in Colorado. I was a lifeguard and I've done everything in the sun my whole life. Did it teach me anything? Now when I get up in the morning and I look at the weather forecast just to figure out what I'm doing, the first thing I look at is the ultraviolet index.

"People that have the tendency to get this kind of thing need to stay out of the sun or put on sunscreen. I've actually ordered a hat that has (added sun protection) on the inside of it.

"I think it's important. If it is something that is preventable, why would I do something stupid not to prevent it?"


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