LOS ANGELES - A local Marine is facing one of his biggest battles.
Gunnery Sgt. Ray Paladino, who faced constant threats while serving in Afghanistan, is now back home battling Stage 3 Melanoma.
"It was difficult. I think over time I’ve been able to accept where I am," Sgt. Paladino said.
For Paladino, his biggest weapon is his bravery.
"I think my time in the military and my deployment to Afghanistan helped me being able to handle a crisis like this because I’ve been in stressful situations before," he explained.
The 31-year-old veteran was diagnosed with cancer in January 2021. His fiancé, Christina Burcelis, noticed an unusual mole on his foot and encouraged him to have it checked out. She believes his constant exposure to toxic burn pits, which the US military had used to destroy trash in Afghanistan, is to blame for his disease.
"Skin cancer tends to be from the sun or genetics…and so based on the burn pits…there’s no other cause," she said.
Paladino is now receiving a new kind of treatment called immunotherapy at the University of Southern California’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, he is also pursuing a master’s degree in finance at the university.
Last month, he was honored during a. USC Trojans football game.
Dr. Gino Kim, an Oncologist at Keck Medicine of USC, said he’s a fighter.
"He’s a very impressive person," Dr. Kim said. "The fact that he navigates cancer treatment well is impressive."
Paladino is certain he’ll complete his treatment and is set to graduate by the end of the year.
So, what’s next?
He said he has several new missions planned, including helping other service members affected by burn pits and marrying the love of his life.
"She’s been with me through everything," he said.