My wife's simple sentence to me ended up saving my life from colorectal cancer.
I was totally devastated when I was diagnosed with stage 3b colorectal cancer on May 18th, 2018. This happened after a routine colonoscopy because of a few irregular symptoms I was having at the time. There was only a bit of blood found in my stool and some occasional abdominal cramping. To be honest, I had been ignoring these symptoms for a few months. At my wife’s urging, I finally listened to my doctor’s orders and scheduled a long overdue colonoscopy. She saved my life that day and I’ll forever be grateful for her.
I would spend the next several months in treatment for my cancer. I had surgery to remove my tumor from the sigmoid region of my colon, a colon resection and then six months of two types of chemotherapy. It was the worst thing that I had ever endured in my life, and I pretty much gutted through it alone. I did have the support of my wife, family and a few friends. The problem was, I found very few men willing to talk about their cancer. I have made it a personal goal to change that in myself and to offer support to other men in the fight against cancer.
A couple of days ago, after over five and a half years of follow-up blood work and CT scans, I walked out of Duke Cancer Institute for the last time as a cancer patient. My oncologist told me to go live my life because our work here was completed. We both understood the reality that my cancer could still recur. He encouraged me to continue being aware of the symptoms that might occur going forward and reminded me of my follow-up colonoscopy in a couple of years.
A good friend of mine reminded me the other day of something I had said a few years ago after finding out that I had NED (No Evidence of Disease) following my cancer treatments.I remember sitting in the survivor’s garden at my cancer center on that day after finding out I was free of cancer. I knew the reality for me was that I was going to be monitored for the next five years. At that point, I figured “Cancer might be done with me, but I’m not done with cancer.” It had become a personal mission going forward and I needed a reminder that day of the road I faced ahead of me.
This statement still rings true today. The road ahead for me leads me away from cancer as a patient but continues to send me in the direction of advocacy in multiple ways. I will continue to share my story with as many men that will listen. So many men, like me, just bottled up their feelings about being diagnosed with cancer. This can be damaging to their mental health and can affect their overall treatment goals. Research has shown that men with cancer may experience a range of psychological distress symptoms including depression, anxiety, anger, lethargy and fatigue, which can impact their quality of life. Depression, in particular, is a common mental health condition experienced by men with cancer.
To any men reading this today, don’t be stubborn and put off those regular screenings for cancer. Take the time to get a colonoscopy, have a PSA check, and check your body for anything abnormal that might be found on it. Don’t miss your annual physical exams with your doctor because early detection is the greatest way to defeat cancer in any form. Keep your mental health in check during the treatment of your cancer. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There is no shame in taking that important path for yourself.
I’m incredibly grateful to Man Up to Cancer and CURE for continuing to give me a platform to share my cancer journey and support men in the fight with cancer. I will always be thankful to Trevor Maxwell for inviting me to his Facebook group Man Up to Cancer - The Howling Place on Dec. 31st, 2019. In early 2020, he asked me to become the lead administrator for the group. Today, I serve as the chief operating officer of the Man Up to Cancer nonprofit that Trevor created during the fall of last year.
My calendar this year is filling up with a few advocacy projects with continued opportunities to share my cancer story. I have slowly been building a career in advocacy over the years and it has become my life’s work.
The greatest gift given to me in all of this is I get to continue to spend the rest of my life with the one person that matters the most on this path with me. My loving wife, Michelle Bullock, has saved my life with one statement, “Why haven’t you done that yet, stupid?” Because of that statement, I am cancer-free six years later.
To find out more about Man Up to Cancer and our programs. Just go to manuptocancer.org.
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