In March 25 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal ReporterEditor's Note: This is the sixth in an American Cancer Society series, Faces of Cancer. In this story we profile Steve Foley, a local survivor of colon cancer. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
In the fall of 2004, Steve Foley was finishing up some construction work on his home church, Columbia's Free Union Separate Baptist, less than two week's later he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“The Lord wanted to see if I would do his work first and now he is taking care of me,” he said this week as he celebrated his 57th birthday.
Foley, a devout Christian and family man, said the experience and struggles of surviving cancer have allowed him to live on “borrowed time.” Going on five years cancer-free, he gives credit to his family, friends and doctors, but most of all, God.
Dr. Vijay Jain diagnosed Foley with cancer in October 2004 after Foley had some blood drawn at a health fair in Adair County.
Upon receiving word back from the blood results, he sought immediate medical attention from his family doctor, Robert L. Bertram. Bertram sent Foley on to Jain where he underwent a colonoscopy test that showed the cancer.
“I had a tumor as big as a walnut on my colon,” he said. “When he told me that I thought I had six months to live. After I found out all that, I had to set up a surgery.”
For a short time after, Foley said he felt depressed. He likened it to being a puppy alone in an open field, with nothing near, no family, no friends, nothing. His wife, Juanita, did her best to comfort him during these initial stages, and he began to look to the future.
Foley underwent surgery less than a week later at Louisville's Baptist Hospital East under Dr. Craig Deweese, whom a cousin had recommended to him following a similar instance.
“They took out a foot of my colon,” he said. During the surgery, his wife, Juanita, and children Travis, Tabitha and Jessica, were all there for him.
“My wife was my biggest support,” he said. “She stayed in the hospital the whole time, she never left that place.” Foley also said his former pastor at Free Union, Bro. Jim Goff, also visited with him each day as did many others from the church and his workplace, Branscum Construction.
He also said the physicians and nurses at the hospital treated him exceptionally well after his surgery.
“That meant the world to me,” he said.
Several weeks after surgery Foley began undergoing chemotherapy treatments with Dr. Thomas Baker at the Commonwealth Cancer Center in Danville under the advice of East Baptist's Dr. Renato LaRocca, another battle he had to fight.
“I believe in God,” he said. “If it wasn't for the Lord being in my life, I wouldn't make it.”
With his faith firm, Foley sat through six months of rough chemo treatments, mostly in Danville. He even drove himself to and from the treatments, something he vowed to do even through the sickness.
After the onslaught of chemo treatments ended, Foley still had to go once a month for a check-up to make sure the cancer hadn't returned. Then the visits were trimmed to once every six months, now he goes once each year. He still can't feel several of his toes due to the harsh chemotherapy.
“They'll never be the same,” he said. “It is like they're cold.”
Foley, an estimator at the local construction company, said when he first found out about his cancer he told his co-workers that he didn't believe he would live through it.
“But I had peace and everything seemed to work out,” he said. During his time off from work, numerous co-workers gave up their own time off and vacation days just so Foley could have extra days to recover.
“I hope I can return the favor one day,” he said. “That meant a lot to me.”
When giving advice about his experiences, Foley pointed out several key points.
“You want to learn as much as you can about cancer,” he said. “The better you understand it, the easier it is to cope with it.
“I tell everyone they should have a colonoscopy test at least by the age of 50,” he said. “If I had put it off another few weeks, month, or six months I wouldn't be here today.”
He said by finding his cancer early he was able to “cheat death.”
“Last year was my best year so far,” he said. Foley, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, said he now is able to enjoy hunting and working on his farm once again without the fatigue he experienced for so long. He also now has three grandchildren that he wants to see grow up.
“I want my grandchildren to have a grandpa,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. That wish is now a reality for the now cancer-free Foley, whose story is a remarkable one of faith, fear, friends and family.
An estimated 146,970 cases of colon cancer were expected to occur in America in 2009 with 49,920 deaths expected. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women.
“We have an opportunity to significantly reduce death rates from colon cancer through regular screening,” said Brooke Cary, the American Cancer Society community's representative in Somerset. “We hope that people will use this month, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, as an opportunity to make screening a priority and talk to their doctors, family members and friends about getting tested. By doing so, they are taking a key step toward staying well.”