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Five More Years: Living With Cancer

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One of my favorite songs really hit home after I was diagnosed with cancer.

Joe Bullock Image

One of my favorite country songs is by North Carolina recording artist and American Idol winner, Scotty McCreery. The title of the song is "Five More Minutes." I could be a bit biased as I grew up in the same area of the state as Scotty. I definitely voted for him as many times as I could when he was competing on that show back in 2017.

I didn’t realize that a year later this song would really hit home after being diagnosed with stage 3b colorectal cancer in May of 2018. It only took five minutes to hear those words, "You have cancer," but then five years for me to feel confident enough to feel like it is cured. After being diagnosed you realize how precious those five minutes are in your life. There have been so many times in my cancer journey that I wished I had more of those minutes especially with friends that are no longer with us because of this disease.

A few years ago I remember sitting in my oncologist's office waiting for him to tell me the results from the six months of chemotherapy that I had just endured to prevent a recurrence of my cancer . All I wanted to hear that day were those four words, "no evidence of disease." My oncologist walked in the room that day with a smile on his face and excitement in his voice. He told me "We got it! You are cancer free."

Now that I'm a somewhat more well informed patient I realize what he was actually saying to me at the time is the cancer wasn’t visible on the CT scans and there were no areas of concern. So essentially the chemotherapy had done its job and killed those cancer cells. It now becomes a waiting game to see if it returns. That five minute conversation turned into five years of waiting to see if the cancer was going to return. This is the reality of the life of your average cancer patient that many don’t understand, especially those never diagnosed with cancer.

My oncologist was very surprised that day that I wasn’t more excited about the news he had just given me. I just sat there with a million thoughts running through my head. The only question I could put together at that moment was to ask, "What do I do next?" He continued to explain to me that we would continue this doctor and patient relationship for the next five years. I would continue to do regular follow up CT scans and blood work to make sure we keep the cancer away and this would be our five year plan. He also told me that day, "All I want you to do is go enjoy your life and let me worry about the cancer." Many patients know that's easier said than done. You will find yourself faced with years of worry about recurrence and many follow up appointments. The idea of being "cancer free" is not a reality that most people understand because you are not really free of cancer.

When I was in college I remember sitting in a career development class. One of our main projects for the semester was to develop a five-year plan for our chosen careers. At the time I was this 18-year-old kid who had just recently survived years of physical and emotional abuse from a very toxic home life. I had faced homelessness more than once in my life but somehow always landed on my feet. To be asked to create a five-year plan wasn’t really in my DNA. I think I went to college to just find a sense of normalcy in my life and I just wanted to find a path to move forward at the time. Needless to say, I didn't do very well in that class because my life at the time was just too distracting.

After dropping out of college I would just go from one job to another seeking some sense of accomplishment in my life. Over time I would gain enough on the job training and confidence in myself that would help lead me to eventually graduating from a local community college.

Since becoming a cancer patient I was left once again to create yet another five-year plan. It was a very focused plan in the hopes to beat cancer. This wasn’t a plan I was expecting in my life but one that I learned to accept over time. Shortly after being diagnosed with cancer and a few months after finishing chemotherapy treatments. I made it a goal to become an advocate for men in the cancer space because I had learned how traumatizing it can be to have been diagnosed with cancer. I had begun to volunteer with a few cancer organizations these last few years to offer support to fellow cancer survivors and patients. A few weeks ago I accepted a new position to be the chief operating officer for the Man Up To Cancer nonprofit.

My friend Trevor Maxwell, who is the President and CEO of the Man Up To Cancer nonprofit , just underwent a life saving surgery called HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) to treat the stage 4 colorectal cancer he has been battling for almost six years now. Trevor and I have known each other for almost four years but in many ways it feels like five minutes. I hope with the outcome of this latest surgery it will give us five more years together.

As the main chorus of Scotty’s song goes:

Time rolls by the clock don't stop

I wish I had a few more drops

Of the good stuff, the good times

Oh but they just keep on flying

Right on by like it ain't nothing

Wish I had me a pause button

Moments like those Lord knows I'd hit it

And give myself five more minutes.

I hope for once cancer will hit a pause button so we can continue to do the work I believe Trevor and I are destined to do together. We will hopefully get five more years of the good stuff. If you know a man impacted by cancer. Have him check out manuptocancer.org and join our facebook group or learn about our other programs that are available to him. My email is joe@manuptocancer.org.

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