A Guest Post by Ken.
Three unexpected words can destroy your life and attack you without compassion or consideration.
In September of 2015 I took my health and being physically fit for granted. After all, for the last 22 years the Army has insisted on regular fitness tests, eating well, annual physicals, preventative medical care, and countless opportunities to be active. So much so that I, like many of my brothers and sisters in arms, embraced leisure fitness as refuge from daily stresses. At 43 years old, regularly running 5Ks, 10K, and Half Marathons rewarded my hard work and devotion. As retirement was right around the corner, imagine my shock, to hear three unarguably evil words “YOU HAVE CANCER.” from my Doctor.
When the Grim Reaper unleashes his weapons the devastation that ensues impacts every part of your being. The universe as you know it implodes into a singularity of compressed fear, anguish, and mortality. Nothing prepares you. In a rush tests were run. Radioactive sugars pushed through my body to measure the extent of the cancerous invasion letting my Doctors plan the battle. The news got worse and the strategy changed compensating for the aggressiveness of my Enemy. In the span of only five days I transformed from being a Warrior for our country to being a Warrior fighting for my own very life. My loving wife became my support group forming “Team Ken” deciding then and there this would be a fight to the end with her at my side. On day six, our first battle lasted nine hours as I lay afraid on the operating table while the surgeons went to war. There was a victory! My liver was not invaded after all and could be saved. Sadly, I lost significant parts of my colon and rectum and gained a lengthy recovery.
Open abdomen surgery is no joke. My optimism for a speedy recovery never faltered but I accepted the harsh reality of a six to nine month healing process. The 18 inch scar and all my abdomen muscles (as well as the internal plumbing) began the slow campaign of healing. Roles became reversed. My loving wife became my Warrior and caregiver as I sat helpless. A restricted diet led to shedding 20 pounds that I could scarcely afford to lose. Simple tasks like getting out of bed, reaching for a glass, or sitting down comfortably seemed impossibly hard and painful. A full two months passed before the strength returned to simply walk around the block. By the end of December the ability to lightly jog for about 3 minutes came back. January saw the return of the highly prized Sit-Up and being able to run lite intervals at a 2min walk/5min run pace! Confidence was returning along with my strength and hope.
Onward to Victory! No one goes to war without a plan, to do so would invite disaster. So here we are, at the New Year and a second chance at living. I’ve signed up for a 5K in February, walk-or-run, I will cross that finish line. Victory will be mine. A 10K in March. Another Victory. I plan to run a Half in June. Another (probably painful) Victory. And by October of 2016, I will cross the finish line of a Full Marathon (probably very slowly). VICTORY! CANCER WILL NOT BEAT ME! The importance of returning to running drives me as much as returning the love from my family back to them for their support. Running is my Zen that reminds me I am alive. Each step forward is a Victory. I suspect that each of us in similar circumstances have found that Zen state to mentally cope with the experience and knowledge that the Grim Reaper is still watching…I am doing everything possible to defeat Him.
Aside from the invasive open surgery I am one of the lucky ones. My Doctors believe that we won and I stand about an 85% chance of surviving the next five years. This comes at a cost of continuous surveillance through more testing for signs that the Enemy is re-attacking and the constant fear that I’m not safe and may need Chemotherapy. Others are not so lucky. Colorectal Cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States and is increasingly attacking those of us under 50. The survival rates drop dramatically the longer colorectal cancer goes undetected. If recommended for colonoscopy…please don’t hesitate. It’s painless and you don’t remember a thing…it could save your life too! For more information visit the Colon Cancer Alliance at www.ccalliance.org.
About the author: Ken Haynes is a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army originally from Reno, Nevada. He credits his wife with providing the much needed love, emotional and physical strength needed to fight his cancer. They currently live in Evans, GA, and are re-planning their retirement. The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Army, Department of Defense or the US Government.
UPDATE: I finally made my over 50 “old man physical” which I have been putting off for 18 months because of this post from Ken….you should too. – Brian