Wade Hayes is still recovering from surgery in December following his diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer. And while he is now cancer-free, he says the disease will always remain a threat.
"One of the biggest reasons why people should get tested is because it's one of the more treatable cancers," the 1990s country star told CMT Insider. "When I waited too long, it spread, and now I have to deal with the rest of my life. I have to keep an eye on it because once it's in your blood stream and its mobile, it can pop up anytime. When it's just your colon, there's a lot better chance that they will get it right then. There is a chance you won't have any more problems with it. You know, that is not my case."
Hayes' surgery involved removing part of his large intestine, nearly three-fourths of his liver (due to the cancer's spread) and a commitment to chemotherapy until June.
In a recent interview, the "Old Enough to Know Better" singer shares the way that cancer has affected his health, his family relationships and the enduring connection to his fans.
CMT: Let's go back to your diagnosis. Were you feeling bad? How did it happen?
Hayes: I had an idea something was wrong all year last year. I felt weird and was having some problems. Last fall, I was going to a show in Houston and I had this severe pain in my abdomen. I went to the doctor and he said, "We need to get a colonoscopy. That's our first step." I did that and went ahead and did the show in Houston with this severe pain. When I say "severe pain," I mean seriously. And so I find out there is something in my large intestine larger than the size of my fist. We do more tests and find out it's a tumor that's blocking most of my large intestine. And we do more tests and find out that it is cancer and it has spread to my liver. There were three large tumors in my liver and several other small ones.
What do you do when the doctor says you have cancer? What does that do to you?
The moment I found out, I immediately started thinking, "Well, how am I going to tell my mom and dad?" I started thinking that I've got to beat this. That is all there is to do. I have to beat this.
Then with more time, do a little self-examination and look at my life and think about the things that are left undone, the things that are left unsaid. Do I really want to go talk to my Maker with this stuff on my heart? So you start to try and mend those fences and find a way to tell those people that you love that you love them. You want them to know, and it has really changed me.
I have decided if I can beat this thing that I am going to make it into a blessing not a curse because I know it is going to make me a better man. I still have problems with being grumpy, but that's something that I'm never going to beat. I've always had this side of me. I wake up on the wrong side of the bed sometimes ... but other than that, I have really made bounds in improving my life and relationships.
Career-wise, as this was happening, you were playing in Randy Owen's band.
I have been playing lead guitar with Randy Owen and still doing shows on my own. You know, it has been a pretty good schedule. It has been fun. I love picking with Randy Owen. He is a great guy and treats us like gold, and I love playing all those old Alabama songs that I grew up on. It is a blast, but this diagnosis couldn't have come at a worse time for me career-wise. I had gotten hooked up with my first producer, Don Cook. We had decided to make another project and kind of go for it again and see what happens. I had been writing and had some really good stuff in the stack that Don liked.
We were going to do a project, and we had finances lined up and all this business. Then I get this news, and it puts me a year behind of what I wanted to do. With chemo, you can't work. Everything has to be planned around your treatments. I can't go out and play with Randy and do shows of my own because of that. But it has been getting better and better every day. I'm getting my strength back finally from the surgery. I mean, you wouldn't believe how bad the surgery knocks you out. I look like Frankenstein and have scars all over me, but I am up and walking and feeling better every day.
There are fans who follow you regardless.
That's true. I couldn't believe the outpouring of well wishes and prayers just on Facebook alone. Also, the calls I have gotten from people. I have gotten calls from Rick Sutcliffe, the famous pitcher from the Chicago Cubs. Willie Nelson called me from Hawaii. Just all kinds of people that I didn't even know that they knew I existed. They took the time to call me and say that they were praying for me. That has opened my eyes a lot. I have a lot to be thankful for that I took for granted.
How would you like your fans to react to this situation?
I would hope the main thing that people would take from this situation is that I would like to help somebody. ... I'm generally not a happy-go-lucky guy. I've got a dark side, and there are very few things that truly I can say honestly make me happy. And one of them, oddly enough, is when someone needs me for something. When I can help somebody, then that makes me happy.
With that being said, if I can help anybody out, if they hear what I'm saying, if I can offer hope to somebody that they can get through this and they can fight it, then I can help somebody. I can give them that little nudge they need to go get it checked out and catch it earlier than I did.
When people think about me and hear that I have this condition, I hope that I can accomplish those things and also I hope that they can remember the music and the live shows because it was the best time of my life. I loved it. I love pickin', and I hope that I have made some people happy along the way.