Podcast host and cancer survivor turns adversity to optimism through coaching, speaking

Dylan Slattery, at 27 years old, has experienced more grief and trials than many people have in a lifetime. In the last five years, he has turned his life upside down to teach other people about positivity, overcoming adversity, and appreciating life.


Hannah Kinson

Dylan Slattery, a cancer survivor, is pictured on Wednesday, April 11, 2019.

Kinsey Phipps, News Reporter

Twenty-seven-year-old Dylan Slattery, a podcast host, speaker, and two-time cancer survivor, spoke at the 2019 Adolescent and Young Adult Cancer Symposium in Iowa City on April 12. Five years ago, he wasn’t sure he wanted to live another day.

When Michelle Deutmeyer was eight months pregnant with Slattery, her husband committed suicide. That’s where Slattery’s story begins, he said, because his father’s decision affected the rest of his life.

In college, Slattery and his long-term girlfriend broke up, he spent his 22nd birthday at the Mayo Clinic, had a cancerous mole removed, and had a good friend die in his arms after a car accident, he said. This was all in the span of about a year.

That experience sent Slattery on a spiral downward. He had survivor’s remorse — he was angry and depressed. He turned to alcohol.

On the 23rd anniversary of his father’s suicide, Slattery admitted to his friends that he was helpless, lost, and was thinking about giving up. They called Deutmeyer.

She drove up to his place at the University of Northern Iowa, angry tears rolling down her face the whole way, she said.

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“I was angry it was on the anniversary, the fact he would do that to me. It was hard seeing him at his lowest,” Deutmeyer said. “We work together. We are each other’s biggest fan.”

In the fall of 2014, Slattery was tailgating with friends in Iowa City. He woke up on game day with golf ball-sized lump under his jaw. The next week, he was diagnosed with melanoma that the Mayo Clinic said was untreatable.

Slattery moved to UI Hospitals and Clinics, where he was given options for experimental treatments. Even still, his best chance for survival was 15 percent.

“What was that like?” Slattery said. “To be honest, I was so numb, I didn’t flinch.”

Slattery began treatments in 2015. Three different experimental treatments were done to combat Slattery’s cancer, he said. The first was easy, the second landed him in the ICU for four weeks.

Slattery began his third experimental treatment: immunotherapy. He was told those treatments would continue forever, but six months went by with no sign of cancer. Slattery went off treatments in January 2017, and he has been clean since.

“Beating cancer is a team effort,” Slattery said. “It wasn’t just me. There were people in my corner encouraging me.”

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While in the ICU, a woman across the hall died.

Slattery saw people in and out crying, laughing, and speaking about their best memories with the woman.

“It made me think about what people would say about me if I were to pass away,” he said. “Based on three years before, I thought about my brothers and the example I’d set for them. I don’t want to go out like that.”

Slattery started a podcast called “Stage Four 2 On Stage” where he covers overcoming adversity of all kinds. He travels around the country as a speaker and coach with the slogan “When faced with adversity, you have a choice. You can be a cancer, or you can be a cure.”

Jordan Montgomery, who works with Slattery, is also an organizational coach.

“When I think of Dylan, the word ‘grateful’ comes to mind,” Montgomery said. “He has realized life is short, and he really values relationships and life in general. He is a happy guy who’s filled with gratitude.”