Meet Wade Stevenson, a stage 2 colon cancer survivor.
What is apparent about Wade’s personality is his warm smile and calm demeanor. His story of avoiding critical care is not unique. In fact, men typically require a bit of a push when it comes to seeing their doctor regularly or when they experience an ongoing symptom, whether from their spouse, a trusted friend, or a family member. Wade needed lots of encouragement, which came in the form of a reminder from his wife, “’til death do us part,” and his family who all came to Saint John’s Health Center prior to his surgery and COVID lockdown. Fortunately, Dr. Tracey Childs was there to support Wade and his family, bringing to light the care path she recommended.
“Really?… I’m not doing chemo, I’m not doing radiation, you’re not going to cut on me. You’re not doing none of that.”
– Wade Stevenson
Dr. Childs connected with Wade in a way that resonated with him, referring to her as a “faith-going person.” This was reassuring to Wade. While some patients may choose to let life take its course, others may need additional support to move forward with care. Though it may vary depending on the nature of the care needed, the CDC has found the rate of annual examinations and preventive care was “100 percent higher for women than for men,” an indication that more outreach and awareness are needed for men, which also has a profound impact for minority groups.1
Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C), a national support organization, recently assembled a team of nationally recognized doctors and institutions such as Saint John’s to help address colorectal cancer health inequity (See Stand Up to Cancer with Dr. Anton Bilchik, Co-leading the Colorectal Cancer Health Equity Dream Team), focusing on African American communities to develop pathways for early diagnosis and treatment intervention.
I had to let it be his decision… I needed him to come to terms with his diagnosis.
– Marilyn Stevenson
Listen to Wade and Marilyn discuss the details of their journey.
Wade agrees to receive treatment.
Once Wade accepted that treatment would be best, the process started. Dr. Tracey Childs, Chief of Surgery at Providence, Saint John’s Health Center, and Adjunct Associate Professor of Surgery at Saint John’s Cancer Institute, who was referred to by Dr. Rudolph Bedford, Wade’s gastroenterologist, spearheaded his treatment. Wade received surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation—a multi-disciplinary approach that is proven to be highly effective for many advanced cancers.
We take our health for granted until it is our health.
– Wade Stevenson
“They removed the whole colon,” Wade explains in his video interview. Removing the entire colon (colectomy) was the best option for Wade to retain as much bowel control as possible. Wade had to wear a colostomy bag after his total colectomy, which is common after colon surgery. Most people who require a colostomy bag only need it while the intestine heals, while some may need a permanent ostomy. Throughout Wade’s journey, his wife Marilyn was there.
Wade described how he did not suffer many of the common symptoms associated with his cancer treatments, including fatigue and nausea, as well as the possibility of developing a rash from the radiotherapy. Wade described the doctors as being “amazed” that his surgical recovery, chemotherapy, and radiation were going so well.
He also made an effort to eat, breaking through the “lead taste” he experienced by eating things with powerful flavors such as dill pickles. This allowed Wade to eat more, reducing the metallic taste commonly experienced with some types of chemotherapy and restoring his senses. As Wade laughed about it, Marilyn described his post-treatment eating habits as, “I don’t think I’ve ever cooked as much as I did during that period. I wasn’t expecting that but it was a good thing for sure.”
Wade makes a friend who also struggled with his cancer diagnosis
Dr. Childs introduced Wade to another patient, Elridge Cavitt, who is now a stage-2 rectal cancer survivor. In Elridge’s video testimonial, he credits Wade as the pivotal figure of encouragement in his care, relating to him personally and providing actual accounts of the care he was about to receive from his “dream team,” who also consisted of Dr. Sean Fischer, a medical oncologist at Saint John’s, and Dr. Robert Wollman, his radiation oncologist. At the end of Wade’s radiation treatment, he was able to ring the bell–a tradition in radiotherapy that signifies the completion of the treatment journey.
… It’s a good feeling because I think I told [Elridge] what I was going through, but I also listened. It made me think about what I went through… It made me feel good to be able to walk him through it.
– Wade Stevenson
Wade still communicates with Elridge, which has helped them both arrive at a better outcome mentally and physically. This process of patients helping patients was co-developed with another patient of Dr. Childs, Betsy Smith, a stage 3 rectal cancer survivor who, after many years, actively supports cancer patients on their journey.
Colorectal Cancer Facts
In 2022, 151,030 colon and rectum cancers were diagnosed: 80,690 were men, and 70,340 were women. Second to lung cancer deaths, colon, and rectum cancers are still the 2nd leading causes of cancer deaths in the US. With 28,400 men, and 24,180 women in 2020. The relative survival rate is 65.1 percent and affects Asian pacific islanders, Native Americans/Alaskan natives, and non-Hispanic black communities predominantly.2
Because of how many people are being diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer, the screening age for colorectal cancer has been recently reduced to 45 years of age from 50 years; people are not catching it early enough. According to Dr. Anton Bilchik, Chief of Surgery, and GI surgical oncologist at Saint John’s Health Center, the age should really be 40 years old, which would catch more cancer in its earliest stage.
1 US Department of Health and Human Services. (2001). Vital and Health Statistics. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/01news/newstudy.htm.
2U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 2022. Cancer Stat Facts: Common Cancer Sites. https://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/common.html.