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Cancer Hasn't Taken You, So Don't Let it Fade You - by Joe Bullock

Joe Bullock, colorectal cancer survivor and avid patient advocate, shares his experiences with cancer and his passion for supporting others. Read it on The After Cancer

Joe Bullock was diagnosed with stage 3b colorectal cancer in 2018. He's the COO of Man Up to Cancer and a Community Manager at COLONTOWN.

I have lived through many different phases of this cancer journey

After almost 6 years of being NED ( NO Evidence of Disease) from Stage 3B Colorectal Cancer. To be able to say 'I'm relieved' to have survived cancer would be an understatement. Although my life definitely has not been the same since being diagnosed with cancer. I have lived through many different phases of this cancer journey from being a person diagnosed with cancer, then battling the depression caused by it, to surviving it. It can even be quite embarrassing talking about butt stuff all the time, especially for men. As a cancer patient, your life becomes pretty exposed and then you are forced to face your own mortality. It can be all-consuming and overwhelming at times.

Over the years I have trained to take part in many activities in the cancer community. I have learned to be an advocate for it, and tried to be a supportive friend to other survivors in treatment. Over the last five years, I have struggled to find the balance in life between being a cancer patient, a survivor, an advocate and to be able to live in the aftermath of it all.

Once you are diagnosed with cancer your days and nights are spent focusing on your treatment and survivorship from this disease no matter the type of cancer. Then you find yourself worrying about the others you come in contact with who have heard those same three words 'You Have Cancer' and you hope they survive it as well. Over time you can find yourself caught up in the endless feelings of guilt because so many of the ones that you have supported over the last few years have been taken by this disease. I recently found myself battling the same type of depression as I did in treatment because I just don't feel I can be enough or find my worthiness as a survivor of cancer.

A couple of years before I was diagnosed with cancer I found myself in that 'middle age'

time in my life. I was pretty restless and I was even down right bored with myself . I would go for long walks and find myself hoping that the universe would just shake my life up a bit.

Don't get me wrong I have a great life with a loving wife and a couple of wonderful kids anyone would be proud of as a parent. I just felt a bit unfulfilled at the time. As is typical for a lot of older middle-aged men. My male friendships had faded over time and I had been trying to find more people to connect with just to have a few new friendships.

You might call it a midlife crisis but you should be very careful what you wish for in this life.

Those life 'shake-ups' might take you to some very unexpected places. Especially being

diagnosed with cancer but I have to say it brought me some of the best friends I have ever had in my life.

Being a cancer caregiver and patient

A few years ago my Dad was diagnosed with early onset prostate cancer. I only found out

because at the time we both had the same primary care physician. I would learn of his

diagnosis during a routine physical with the same doctor who had brought it up as part of my family history. My Dad wasn't crazy at the time that I had found out about his cancer diagnosis in this way and he was upset that I knew about his diagnosis. He was hoping to keep silent so as not to worry the family. As time progressed I would soon learn that my Dad's prostate cancer had gotten to the point in his disease where I would have to become one of his main caregivers.

He had refused treatment early in his diagnosis and had allowed the cancer to run its course.

The pain from the progression had become so unbearable for him to the point he was abusing over-the-counter pain medicine to deal with the pain. One night while he was going to the bathroom he fell and broke his hip. At first, he refused to go to the hospital to try to repair the injury because I think he was worried he would never return home. Unfortunately, this would become true because his abuse of the pain meds was causing his organs to fail. I would spend the next couple of weeks caring for him at a local hospice center until he passed away.

All the while caring for my Dad I would start to have symptoms related to a colorectal cancer

diagnosis. There were general symptoms like blood in my stool, changes in my bowel

movements, and some unexplained fatigue. After a routine colonoscopy, I would find out that I had stage 3b colorectal cancer. I would be facing the same reluctance to get treatment as my Dad did when he was diagnosed. The difference was I chose to listen to my doctors and pursue treatment. My Dad told me right before he died that he regretted the decision not to seek treatment to prolong his life. I would think of him often when I was going through treatment for my own cancer. I just wish he had been more open to treatment early on instead of letting the cancer quickly fade him.

A few months after being cancer free a friend of mine was going to the cancer center

alone for his chemotherapy treatments. When I found this out I quickly offered to go and sit with him. It was odd being in the infusion room and listening to all those sounds of the monitors as he prepared for chemotherapy. I felt the hairs raise up on my arms as I realized I had been sitting in that same spot myself a couple of months ago waiting for chemotherapy. For my friend being he had metastatic stage IV colon cancer his journey was much longer than mine in that infusion chair. About a year later it would not be the cancer that failed him but his enormous heart would give up and cause him to give up the fight.

An advocate for men battling cancer

Being a caregiver for my Dad and being diagnosed with cancer myself I realized that the

universe was setting me up to be an advocate for men battling cancer. The day I visited my

friend going through chemo treatments I realized I had a greater purpose in my survivorship

from my own cancer. The years following I would realize my own path moving forward as I began to accept I was cured from my own cancer.

Today most of my best friends are cancer survivors and a few of them I have even helped to walk home because they left this earth because of the disease. It has been an honor to be in that space with them and I continue to be. I keep their stories alive in my advocacy work today.

Over the last few years I have been involved in leading a facebook group called ‘The Howling Place Group’ that was created by one of my best friends Trevor Maxwell as a part of his website. We affectionately call ourselves a ‘Wolfpack’ because we ‘howl’ about cancer everyday in the group. It is a group for men only so they have a safe place to share their personal journeys with cancer. The goal from the beginning is to help men to understand they do not have to fight cancer alone or need to live in the self-isolation that it may bring with it. Last year Trevor created the Man Up To Cancer nonprofit of which I am currently serving as the Chief Operating officer. It has given me an even greater opportunity to serve in the cancer community.

I won’t let it fade me

In the last five years I have had to gain a better understanding of a work-life balance. Being an advocate in the cancer space can easily become overwhelming because the needs of the community can become suffocating at times. For my own mental health, I have had to learn to step back and delegate responsibilities to others that want to help. I have known friends to walk away from offering support because they couldn’t find this kind of balance in their lives as survivors. I believe cancer didn’t take me for a reason and I won’t let it fade me from offering the support I love giving today to so many in the cancer space. It’s why I always say "Cancer might be done with me but I’m not done with cancer."


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