Country Music’s Wade Hayes Talks Surviving Colon Cancer and Looking toward Tomorrow
Wade Hayes got his start in country music at age 14, playing lead guitar in his father’s band. Entertaining rowdy regulars at local honky-tonks four nights a week fueled his desire for country music stardom, and at 22, Wade packed up his guitar and set out to make a name for himself in Nashville.
Wade’s talent didn’t go unnoticed in Music City. He soon snagged a record deal and, in 1994, released his debut album, Old Enough to Know Better. Since then, Wade has, in his own words, “had several #1 hits, won some awards, and been on tour with the biggest artists in country music.”
In 2011, Wade was touring as the lead guitarist for fellow country artist Randy Owen, as well as performing his own music and writing songs for an upcoming project. Things were going well. But that all changed when Wade was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.
Despite the cancer having spread to his large intestine, liver, lymph nodes, and diaphragm, Wade successfully completed treatment, which included a more than seven-hour surgery, followed by chemotherapy. When the cancer returned to his lymph nodes a year later, Wade again beat the disease, this time emerging with a new attitude and a mission to inspire other cancer survivors.
The country crooner recently talked with Coping magazine about surviving cancer and how he became a changed man, inside and out.
Coping: How did you find out that you had colorectal cancer?
Wade Hayes: I was touring at the time, about to fly to Houston, and out of nowhere I doubled over in pain in my kitchen, and I started bleeding profusely. It felt like somebody had stuck a knife into my abdomen. I was really worried, but my symptoms subsided a little bit, and I was able to make it to the show. As soon as I got back home to Nashville, I went straight to the doctor and told him what was going on. He recommended a colonoscopy, and that’s when we discovered I had a tumor a little larger than an orange in my large intestine.
I’m into positivity. I want to inspire and lift people up.
What was the biggest challenge you faced with cancer?
Neuropathy is the one that stands out in my mind. It’s a condition where the nerve endings in your hands and feet are damaged. If you touch anything that isn’t room temperature, it’s very uncomfortable. You can’t feel things, but you’ve got this strange tingling yet numb sensation.
I play guitar for a living, but I couldn’t feel where my fingers were on the neck of my guitar. You have to be pretty dexterous to play guitar with any accuracy, so it was difficult. It took about a year to get my dexterity back, but my hands are fine now. I still feel the effects in my feet, but fortunately, I don’t play with my feet.
What helped you get through the more difficult moments?
A lot of prayer. Also, I heard some wise words: “Don’t think about where you are. Think about where you want to be. Then put your head down and move forward.”
I took long walks every day to help clear my mind. I figuratively and literally put my head down, moved forward, and thought about tomorrow. To anybody who is going through cancer, I’ll say that you will have tough days, but you’re going to find out that you’re a lot tougher than you think you are.
Has your experience with cancer influenced your songwriting?
Absolutely. At one point after my diagnosis, I wrote a song called “Is It Already Time?” which was kind of an admission of how serious my situation was. Fortunately, I don’t have to sing that song anymore, because I’m hopeful for the future. I’ve come a long way.
The inspiration for my new song “Go Live Your Life” came during one of the last visits to see my oncologist after finishing treatment for the second time. He looked at my bloodwork and said, “Wade, this is a big deal. You’re cancer-free.” Then he said, “I want you to listen to me. I want you to go live your life.” His words hit me like a ton of bricks. They affected me so much that I went home and wrote a song around them.
In the past, I gravitated toward darker songs. (I didn’t know what drinking and cheating were when I was a little kid, but I loved listening to songs about them.) These days, I’m not into that so much. I’m into positivity. I want to inspire and lift people up. My new album really reflects that.
How has having cancer changed your life?
I had been praying earnestly to be a better man before this happened. I’m a very hardheaded, stubborn person. I’m hesitant to say that this needed to happen – I would like to think I could change on my own – but maybe this is what it took. I feel like I’m looking at everything through different eyes. It’s changed me for the better. I like the guy I am right now much more than the person I was before this happened. I actually feel like I’m doing something that matters.
What’s next for you?
I’m not just a singer-songwriter anymore. I’m also a colon cancer advocate, and I want to help others in any way I can. I feel like this is part of my job description now. If I can raise awareness and encourage somebody to be screened so they don’t have to go through what I’ve gone through, then I’ve done my job.
Wade has teamed up with Genentech and the Colon Cancer Alliance to release his song “Go Live Your Life” during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, March/April 2015.