Vankleek Hill Institute teacher Dan Tremblay’s Grade 10 Science Class recently received a virtual visit from ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz – a  two-time Leukemia survivor and co-host of MOVE FM’s morning show in Ottawa. Mr. Tremblay wrote this account of Schwartz’s talk to the students for The Review.

By Dan Tremblay

The Grade 10 science curriculum contains a biology unit, which allows students to discover animal systems such as the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and immune systems, as well as a few others. They also learn about cell division and what happens when cell division goes wrong (some can cause cancerous cells). Students examine how these systems function and what happens when they don’t function well. Usually, an illness occurs and needs to be corrected by doctors.

Our textbook explains all sorts of illnesses, including leukemia, but I could not think of anyone better to address students about this problem than ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz. Stu has been a very prominent person in the Ottawa community, and all-over eastern Ontario. He has been an advocate and a voice for people who are unfortunate enough to get stuck with any kind of illness or disease. He has also been able to raise awareness and money to help support research for many different causes. His fighter mentality and positive attitude have been well documented through social media and he’s allowed everyone to follow his journey through both thick and thin.

Stu began his talk by speaking to the students about where and when this all began. He began having terrible nose bleeds that would last a few hours. Realizing this was not normal, he made the same mistake that most of us do when we feel like there is something wrong with us: he went to the internet and typed in his symptoms, to discover that many searches pointed to the fact that he was low in iron.

“Big mistake,” he told the students.

Stu went to the pharmacy to pick up supplements and spoke with the pharmacist, who he says, “saved my life”. After a short discussion, the pharmacist told Stu that he needed to go to the Ottawa General Hospital immediately. There, he was quickly and properly diagnosed and given the terrible news that he had leukemia.

Leukemia is a cancer that occurs in the bone marrow. The stem cells that differentiate into blood cells divide too quickly, resulting in non-functioning blood cells. If patients are not treated properly, a long list of dangerous consequences can occur.

Stu explained that in his case, the doctors started to give him blood immediately. His levels were dangerously low, and he could have died within 24 hours had he not sought the proper care. He went into the details of his mental frame of mind, by telling the students that he gave himself one day to feel sorry for himself and then he was going to fight and defeat this disease. He talked with cancer survivors daily, either through face-to-face conversations or through social media to get a better idea of what to expect.

In leukemia treatment, all the diseased white blood cells must first be removed, and bone marrow must be killed. Chemotherapy can target and kill bone marrow cells and white blood cells. Healthy bone marrow cells are obtained from a carefully-matched donor. For Stu, this meant a long wait to find a match. He said that he has rare blood due to his Jewish background and that his donor came from Israel.

The header of Schwart’s Twitter page has a picture of him holding his donor’s blood cells, which would later be injected into his body. Afterwards Stu was diagnosed as cancer free and resumed his normal family life.

But Stu’s fortunes turned again in 2020, when hewas given the unfortunate news that the cancer had returned. He explained his warrior attitude and again put on a brave face, describing this journey as one where he now had a playbook.

Stu explained to students that no matter what path they choose to follow in their life, there will be some adversity. The one factor that you can control is your mindset and your attitude towards that adversity. This can be the difference maker between success and failure. He admits that hearing the news for the second time was very difficult, especially for his family. However, he talked about having a strong support system and network that was wiling to cheer him up whenever he didn’t feel so great.

One of the most fascinating side effects of having a bone-marrow transplant for the students was that he now had somebody else’s DNA in his blood, and that after his first transplant he became allergic to shellfish (which he wasn’t before). Since his second transplant, that allergy has gone away. Stu provided students with the opportunity to get answers and hear stories that are not always given to them in textbooks or online. Stu is a real-life warrior who has gone to battle with cancer and defeated it twice.

This was not the first time that Stu Schwartz has helped at VCI. In June of 2020, he recorded a message for our Virtual Award Ceremony that I had prepared for students during our first school shutdown. The amazing thing was not that he recorded a message, but that it was literally before going into a chemotherapy session. The message was recorded from his hospital bed.

As mentioned earlier, I can’t think of a better person to speak to students and raise awareness for this cause than Stu Schwartz – he is such a strong and brave person, who is willing to help whenever he can. He raised a lot of awareness in our class and students had the opportunity to ask him questions about anything related to his cancer.

After his talk to our class, I spoke with Stu about his experience. He loved sharing his story and hoped that students got a little bit of science out of what he shared with them. That same day, he shared our class picture with his Twitter and Instagram followers, along with a post that read:

“Getting the chance to share my cancer journey with students is always special. Always weird because in school I was usually in detention for trying to make my classmates laugh and here I am 30 years later educating them!” @StuntmanStu