I was always a big, strong guy. In high school I played lacrosse and ice hockey and coached a weight-lifting team and at six feet tall and 240 pounds, I never worried about weight loss. In January 2007, I started losing my appetite and weight quickly began to fall away. This didn’t seem like a bad thing until I realized I had lost over 30 pounds in just a few months while experiencing extreme fatigue, low back and abdominal pain, and vision blackouts from the simplest exertions. At first, I ignored my symptoms, and the advice of my girlfriend, friends and family, and stubbornly refused to seek medical attention for what I felt was just being ‘a little out of shape’. It wasn’t until attending a wedding where several family friends (who happened to be nurses) were shocked at my pallor and gaunt features that I took my problem seriously and went to the doctor.
The day after my tests, what seemed to be a bit of fatigue and weight loss turned out to be profound anemia. My blood levels were lower than most gunshot victims and upon checking in to the ER, I received an emergency transfusion of 7 units of blood. Further testing detected a mass in my abdomen and a colonoscopy confirmed a large tumor that had perforated my ascending colon. I was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer. By the time my surgery was completed and chemotherapy begun, I was down to nearly 170 pounds, a weight level I hadn’t seen since my early years of high school.
As I began chemo, I was well-steeped in self-pity and depression, despite a very positive surgical outcome. For someone used to tremendous strength and vigor, feeling weaker than a child was more debilitating than the disease itself. And my mind reflected my body’s condition. But with the support of friends and family, I began to change my outlook and forced my body to come alive again. My employer, McMurry guaranteed my job and gave me the time I needed to recover. My mother, a registered nurse, oversaw my home care regimen. Ryan, a friend from college, rallied our schoolmates to send me cards and warm thoughts and check in on me. The acapella chorus I sang with in school locked themselves into a studio for two days to record a tribute album.
My girlfriend Casey, a vegetarian and my strongest supporter, helped me improve my diet by cooking organic foods and using more whole grains and vegetables than a former meat-and-potatoes man would have imagined possible. But it was my good friend Bob, a fitness specialist, who suggested I start exercising again as much as I could as a way to start feeling better mentally and physically. I dedicated myself to strengthening my body and finding the optimism that had always come so naturally to me. It worked better than I could have hoped. As soon as I began recovering from a treatment I was swimming, running and doing gymnastic and callisthenic exercises to strengthen the core muscles traumatized by surgery and chemo. Immediately, my attitude changed dramatically and I found renewed energy and a certainty that my disease was behind me and would stay that way. I found my way to love life again and appreciate just how lucky I was.
In the months since completing chemotherapy, I’ve been blessed with a clear diagnosis on all my tests and I’m in the best physical condition of my adult life. I’ve improved not just my strength but flexibility, balance, agility and endurance and I look forward to each day with unbridled enthusiasm. I’ve come to realize just how profound the mind/body connection can be and that we have the power to make positive change in one by applying will and determination to the other. I plan to be certified as a personal trainer and specialize in diet and exercise changes for those recovering from cancer. I’m eternally grateful to my family and the friends who stood by me, and still do today.