Barb Brouwer, Contributor
Artist Luke Stalker-Switzer is no longer letting his work get under his skin.
Two years ago, the talented 31-year-old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), a type of cancer for which there is no cure, but for which remission is a possibility.
As a sculptor working in the television and movie industry for more than a decade, Stalker-Switzer experienced daily exposure to products containing benzene.
“They call CML the worker’s cancer and one of the leading causes is benzene. It’s in plastics, resins, industrial solvents and it’s something I was always around,” he said, calling it shocking that many dangerous chemicals whose side effects are often ignored or unknown are used daily.
“To a certain degree, I knew there were dangers. I always wore a respirator but didn’t wear gloves because I didn’t want to lose my (sense of) touch. But people need to know it can get through your skin.”
Stalker-Switzer knew something was serious when his doctor called him at night two years ago and told him to come to his office the next day, only to call back near midnight and tell him to go to the ER right away.
“I was more scared I had MS because my dad has primary progressive MS and I watched him lose his ability to do art,” said the 2006 Salmon Arm Secondary grad who now lives in the Lower Mainland.
Despite being in pain most of the time, and feeling weak and nauseated from the chemo drugs, Switzer-Stalker continued to work.
Self-employed as owner and operator of Creature Vault, he was concerned about losing his job with Masters FX, a company that produces character effects for film, television and other media.
But owner Todd Masters assured him the company would find work for him when his illness prevented him from going to the studio.
Ever the optimist, Stalker-Switzer said he looked at his illness as an opportunity to learn a new skill set and used the time to study digital design and digital sculpting.
Meanwhile, determined do what he could to ensure safety and good health among his employees, Masters implemented changes in the Burnaby studio. They included switching to an organic and environmentally friendly chemical that meets the company’s requirements.
While he’s feeling well right now and taking baby steps to get back to playing and coaching basketball, Stalker-Switzer may be on chemo drugs for the rest of his life.
Back in the studio, he said it was hard to learn his art was making him sick. So now he wears a powered respirator and protective covering, including gloves.
“It’s a small price to pay for doing something I love,” he said, excited his work will be featured in Child’s Play, the latest thriller/slasher film featuring the character Chucky, a movie “loaded with special effects that really bring a toy to life” and opens in theatres on June 21.