Sourdoughs rally behind a cheechako

Mark Callan just moved to the Yukon to be a conservation officer, expects a child in December and was diagnosed with brain cancer in August. Callan, 29, is undaunted. But he's far from home.

Mark Callan just moved to the Yukon to be a conservation officer, expects a child in December and was diagnosed with brain cancer in August.

Callan, 29, is undaunted.

But he’s far from home.

He and his wife, Meghan, put up a blog for him to track his progress through chemotherapy.

“(The blog) is therapeutic for me,” said Callan, who bought a house in Whitehorse this August and now rents an apartment in Vancouver while he undergoes treatment.

“It helps me connect with the support we’ve been getting,” he said.

The blog is called Smashing it, and it’s filled with frank descriptions of Callan’s ordeal and his emotional handling of his illness.

Callan and his wife received widespread support among family and friends in the last month, but it was getting burdensome for those closest to the couple to wire every detail to other friends.

So they created their blog, which, as of Wednesday, describes his first chemotherapy session.

“It seemed easier than having everybody contact my family,” said Callan.

He will have to spend three days every two weeks hooked up to an intravenous tube that feeds him and sends cancer-cell killing methotrexate, or “golden goodness” as it’s called colloquially, into his body.

The methotrexate “smashes”

– in Callan’s word – cells that multiply quickly like cancer.

He’s fed the drug for four hours, but the pre-chemotherapy drugs and the cleansing treatment

makes the whole process last a few days.

“In terms of side effects, I’ve done alright,” said Callan.

Many patients can suffer severe nausea, but because of his overall strength he’s making out well.

“We’ll wait to see how the next one goes,” he said.

There’s probably another 12 to 16 weeks of this, which will end exactly around the time he’s expecting his first child.

The Callans barely had a chance to settle into their new home in Riverdale, which they bought in August.

Callan is originally from a Toronto suburb, but moved to Whitehorse in 2002. He married Meghan in 2006 and went back to school to study for the conservation officer job.

“It seemed like the right fit,” said Callan, who studied natural resources law enforcement at Sir Sanford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario.

A youth spent in Algonquin Park polished his love of the wild, and the Yukon pushed it to the centre of his life.

He spent the summer working for the Yukon’s Environment Department, where he handled projects that brought young people into the bush for several days.

Callan’s new life was interrupted by severe headaches and a sudden loss of co-ordination.

“Partway through the summer, he wasn’t quite on top of things,” said Remy Rodden, Callan’s former supervisor.

The Callans took possession of their new house on August 13. But it was around that same time that the headaches grew more intense.

Callan had a large tumour in his brain, a CT scan revealed.

“This is news that no one expects or wants to hear, and we were devastated, terrified, and in utter shock,” Callan wrote on his blog.

He was flown to Vancouver and had the three- to four-centimetre tumour removed.

This eased the pain, but several smaller tumours are still there, and his chemotherapy is meant to “smash” them.

He has central nervous system lymphoma.

It doesn’t make it easy to prepare for a child or to pay two mortgages.

But Callan’s dire straits have sparked an outpouring of support he never saw coming.

His coworkers at the Environment Department began raising money any way they could.

“We got $2,000 just passing the hat around, so to speak,” said Rodden.

On Wednesday, employees had a chance to throw cream pies at their bosses, which included deputy ministers and their assistants.

The department is also hosting a music jam at the Kopper King Lounge on Sunday afternoon with performances by Dave Haddock, Grant Simpson, the Bergman Family Band, the Main Street Buskers, Almost Four and Dolly Varden and the Daredevils.

There will also be a silent auction for an Air North gift certificate, Klondike Vodka, Blackberry service from Latitude wireless, dogsled rides and jewelry.

The support has been overwhelming and humbling, said Callan.

“It makes me really happy to work in the Yukon,” he said. “I’ve only been working for them for a few months.”

“It’s really the way it should be, but you don’t expect it,” he said.

Callan is hoping to visit the Yukon after his next chemotherapy session, and Rodden is trying to get him on a moose hunt.

Callan isn’t letting the illness call the shots.

“What else do you do, right?”

Contact James Munson at

jamesm@yukon-news.com