As a dentist with a busy practice and a husband and father of three, Chad Owens never imagined that he could be affected by cancer. In December 2013, he came down with a stomach virus and was having lots of uncomfortable issues that just wouldn’t go away. He kept chalking it up to this lingering virus, but things weren’t improving. He was dealing with urinary and bowel issues including constipation, and he finally scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist to get checked out in late February 2014.
“When I think about it, there was bright red blood in my stool for a couple of years before any of these other issues began. I honestly didn’t think much about it,” remembers Chad. “I worked out, I ran a lot and thought I was taking decent care of my body, so I basically ignored the early symptoms. I didn’t even have a family practice physician at that time, so when I got sick I’d just go to the quick care for help.”
Because of his age and severity of symptoms, Chad’s gastroenterologist, Dr. Rob Yates, recommended that he have a colonoscopy. The test revealed that he had colorectal cancer, which was a complete shock to Chad and his family. He was immediately referred to a medical and surgical oncologist, and then had a follow up colonoscopy the next week where they staged the cancer at 3c because of the lymph nodes that were also involved.
“I really couldn’t believe that this could happen to someone who was just 36 years old. It seemed completely impossible. But I was so thankful to finally know what was going on, even though I recognized that this would be a fight,” says Chad.
For phase 1 of his treatment, Chad received radiation and oral chemotherapy for five weeks. After that, he began feeling a little better and less constipated. He continued to work at his dentist office for three days week until the surgical phase of his treatment began in late September. During that time, many of his colleagues stepped in to provide care for his patients until he was able to sell his practice.
“Dr. Charles Portera was my surgeon, and I’m so thankful to him for how he cared for me. I was in the hospital for 10 days after my surgery – it was very extensive – and I developed radiation necrosis, which is a side effect of my phase 1 treatment. When they sent me home, I was extremely weak from all my body had been though, and I ended up in the hospital again for five more days,” says Chad. “Recovering from surgery was really rough, and I also had to have a permanent colostomy, which is a completely separate challenge to manage.”
Unfortunately, the pathology report from Chad’s surgery revealed that there were still active cancer cells, and he would need nine more days of radiation followed by more chemotherapy. The emotional impact of that news hit Chad and family very hard, and he recognized that he was fighting both a physical and spiritual battle. As his body struggled to fight the cancer and deal with the effects of the treatment itself, Chad never gave up. All in all, he continued with these extensive treatments that lasted nearly a full year.
Looking to the Future
Today, Chad has a completely different career working at Brainerd Baptist School, where he’s able to spend more time with his kids. He follows up with his physician and has CT scans every six months along with routine colonoscopies. Doctors discovered that he has Lynch Syndrome, which predisposed him for developing colon cancer. Knowing this information means his children will be screened for colorectal cancer at a much earlier age.
“At my age and in my condition, cancer was not in my mindset. I was doing my dream job, had three wonderful kids, but my world came crashing down in that moment. My kids were so young at the time, and they really didn’t understand all that was happening. But they were such a great motivation for me to see their smiles every day. I had to keep going,” says Chad.
At five years out from his cancer, Chad believes now is the time for him to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and to share his story with others, encouraging them to pay attention to your body. “You know when things are not normal, but you can’t let embarrassment get in the way of talking with your doctor,” says Chad. “Many of my friends had their colonoscopies after they saw what I went through. A colonoscopy is not that bad, and I’d much rather go through that than a cancer diagnosis.”
Support from Every Side
Through it all, Chad’s wife, Kelli, was his constant companion who never left his side. Together they experienced God’s grace that helped through every day and the peace and comfort that comes from being fully supported by family and friends.
“I don’t know what I would have done without Kelli’s help and strength. She is a pharmacist by profession but was forced to become my personal nurse in September 2014. I don’t think she realized what she was signing up for with me,” laughs Chad. “We couldn’t have made it through without all the prayers and the support of our faith family. It seemed there was always someone there to help – through a call or text, or a meal, or cutting our grass – it really blew us away. I think the goodness of people comes out in times of tragedy, and it’s so important to take time to be part of someone’s life when they’re struggling. Being a part of that kind of community really made an impact in our lives.”