After Cancer, All Roads Lead to the Gathering of Wolves

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Becoming an advocate after my cancer diagnosis made an impact not only on others, but for myself.

cartoon drawing of cancer survivor and blogger, Joe Bullock

Three years ago, in the fall of 2020 I got in my car and I took off on a 13-hour road trip to visit my buddy Trevor Maxwell in his hometown of Cape Elizabeth, Maine. If you knew me, you would know this was pretty much out of the ordinary. I’m very much known as a homebodyand I had not ventured outside of the area where I live in Durham, North Carolina during all of these 55 years of my life on this earth. The most I had ever done was during my three years in college when I lived a couple ofhours away in the city of Charlotte.

All of that changed after surviving cancer because I have become accustomed to airplane travel with all the advocacy work I have been doing since that weekend with Trevor. It was the beginning of me not being so much a patient with cancer but becoming an advocate to support others in the fight.

One thing about surviving cancer is that it creates a certain type of fearlessness that I had never known before. After being diagnosed with stage 3b colorectal cancer, I knew there was a risk of having a recurrence or that the cancer might metastasize further in my body. Becoming a cancer patient, you tend to become more accepting of risk.

Trust me, at the time of that trip I had played all the scenarios out in my head and the risk of what might happen to me on this road trip. I couldn't help but think what if my car breaks down, I get lost, I get in a car accident, or if I have to deal with road rage from another driver. I mean, I had taken many family road trips but not alone and not without my wife to navigate the way. This was also in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, and I also worried about bringing covid to Trevor’s home because I knew his immune system was compromised, as he had been battling stage 4 colorectal cancer. I think we both understood the risks we were taking at the time but we both knew it was important for us to meet in person.

A few months before our visit together, back in January 2020, Trevor had invited me to take part in helping him build the Man Up to Cancer platform. He first invited me to the Facebook group he created called The Howling Place group and later because of our tremendous growth at the time, he asked me to be the lead administrator of the group. Who knew men like to talk to each other, especially about something as devastating as being diagnosed with cancer. As our growth has continued, Trevor asked me to become the community manager for Man Up to Cancer, a role I am proud to take part in to support the platform in a greater way.

Being the lead administrator of a Facebook group is something I had never done before, but because of the desire of emotionally support men fighting cancer I took a risk in taking on the role. It's something Trevor and I had in common because both of us realize how men can be impacted both mentally and emotionally by a cancer diagnosis. It was easy to do this when you have a friend like Trevor who believes in you. If we have learned anything on this journey together it is that it only takes one person to say ‘I got you!’ that makes the risk worth it. Without that kind of support from Trevor I would never have been able to do this today. We try to extend that same support throughout not only The Howling Place group but also with our various Man Up to Cancer chapter groups worldwide.

Trevor and I both had our own struggles mentally being diagnosed with cancer and we knew it was not talked about very much in the cancer space, especially amongst men. Our plan was to change this perspective in the cancer community and give men a place to “howl”. For me personally I had to take another risk, get out of my comfort zone and open up to a group of men I had never met before. In many ways it has brought a greater purpose to my own survivorship of cancer. Being that Trevor is still battling metastatic stage IV colorectal colon cancer, I just hope we get to work together for many years to come. We continue to be motivated together by the open heart and warrior spirit that carries us every day.

While in Maine, one of the many conversations Trevor and I had was about encouraging members of the Facebook group to have local meet ups, which was incredibly hard amid a worldwide pandemic. Crazy enough it happened because one of the group members ran into another member at a local chemo infusion center while he was getting treatment at the time. This is what has become known in the Facebook group as a #WolfpackMeetup and this would cause tremendous future growth in our community over the next couple of years.

As we walked together on the beaches of Maine those couple of days Trevor shared with me his desire to have an annual men’s cancer retreat. He envisioned a type of lodge atmosphere where the members could just visit together and talk about anything, much like we had done over those few days together. It wasn’t about being diagnosed with cancer but being around other men who understood what it meant to be living with that kind of disease. I could tell Trevor was inspired to make this happen and I had no doubt it was going to be an amazing experience for the members that would be at the event.

When Trevor and I said goodbye after visiting, we were both unsure what the future held at the time for either one of us. I will admit, I shed a few tears on my drive home those next couple of days because I knew it would be a while before I would see my friend again in person. Trevor and I would continue to work together on the platform virtually and he would start his quest to make the first Gathering of Wolves event become reality. Trevor and I would have that long awaited hug two years later along with 50 other members of The Howling Place group at the first inaugural Gathering of Wolves event that he had envisioned.

In just a couple of weeks, we will have our 2nd annual Gathering of Wolves retreat at Duffield Camp and Retreat Center in Delevan, NY. All of this has come together because of the work of our incredible MUTC Leadership team that includes me, Trevor Maxwell, Don Helgeson, Michael Riehle, Jay Abramovitch and Danny Riggs who are all male cancer survivors. We are also joined by one special ‘She Wolf’ event planner Amanda Wolanske. Amanda has her own cancer story as a caregiver for her dad, Gary, who passed away years ago from brain cancer. She knows all too well how a man’s life can be impacted by cancer.

All of our roads have led us together to the Gathering of Wolves event this year and we are hoping with our continued work we will have many more in the future. To learn more about Man Up to Cancer and our other ongoing programs check out manuptocancer.com.

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