Scott Cardwell: “Humility is a sure sign of strength ”

Humility is a sure sign of strength — No one’s tougher than cancer, truly. Machismo or health history means nothing to a non-discriminatory disease. Men can make stupid, ignorant comments about colon cancer, but that doesn’t change the fact you can be asymptomatic like me and still get it. Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions […]

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Humility is a sure sign of strength — No one’s tougher than cancer, truly. Machismo or health history means nothing to a non-discriminatory disease. Men can make stupid, ignorant comments about colon cancer, but that doesn’t change the fact you can be asymptomatic like me and still get it.

Cancer is a horrible and terrifying disease. Yet millions of people have beaten the odds and beat cancer. Authority Magazine started a new series called “I Survived Cancer and Here Is How I Did It”. In this interview series, we are talking to cancer survivors to share their stories, in order to offer hope and provide strength to people who are being impacted by cancer today. As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Cardwell.

Scott Cardwell, 54, resides in Tucson AZ. A 30-years sales and marketing professional, he and his wife relocated from Boulder, CO to enjoy the desert climate. Scott was diagnosed with Stage I cancer in his Sigmoid Colon after a positive Cologuard test and follow-up colonoscopy, and is currently cancer-free.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! We really appreciate the courage it takes to publicly share your story. Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Boulder, Colorado, attended the University of Colorado and stayed afterwards to work primarily in sales within outdoor sports, recreation and fitness-oriented industries.

I stopped eating meat when I was in college, so I’ve been a vegetarian for a long time — over 30 years. I’ve always had a focus on health and fitness, but I did have one significant life challenge. I started to party a little too much in college, and it continued. It took years for me to realize the impact drinking had on me and my relationships, so I quit. Recently, I celebrated 15 years in recovery from alcoholism.

That had been my only big life struggle in terms of health. And little did I know, there would be so many parallels between addiction and cancer, one parallel being that they can both be silent killers.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There are a few of them, but the one I try to remember the most is this: “Keep things in focus and in the present. Yesterday’s gone and tomorrow never comes.” That helps me stay in the moment.

There are always a lot of ‘what if’s’ or ‘what could have been’s,’ particularly with regards to handling the challenge of a cancer diagnosis. It’s really, really easy to get ahead of oneself and start getting into the doom scenarios when you get a diagnosis like that.

A little gratitude inventory is always in order. You know, I really don’t have to look far to find somebody who would trade my problems for theirs in a heartbeat. So that’s probably the other thing I use the most to try to keep myself in check.

There’s also the golden rule, “treat others as you would have them treat you” by practicing kindness, understanding and tolerance. Another one is to help others when you can, because being kind doesn’t cost you a penny. I really try to use these as a guiding force in my life.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about surviving cancer. Do you feel comfortable sharing with us the story surrounding how you found out that you had cancer?

Yes, I’ve always been super healthy. At the time, I was running 25 miles a week, something like 100-mile months. When my doctor brought up colonoscopy I kind of cringed. I was totally unfamiliar with healthcare at this point. He brought up Cologuard as a middle ground option, and I agreed somewhat reluctantly. I didn’t have any symptoms.

So you know, they mailed me the box and I did my thing in the box and returned it. A short time later, my doctor said, “your result came back positive.” My doctor said, “you have to go for a colonoscopy,” and I’m not kidding, I called 40 places trying to get an appointment as soon as possible in the later part of 2020, during COVID. Eventually I got one, and then I found out about the malignant bowel obstruction, which is a frequent complication in patients with advanced cancer. I had a big tumor completely blocking my colon, resulting from Stage I colon cancer.

What was the scariest part of that event? What did you think was the worst thing that could happen to you?

When I woke up from the colonoscopy, my wife was sitting next to my bed. I’ve never seen her look like that. She looked like she had just gone through a war. The doctor did not speak to me; they handed me a piece of paper and rushed me out of there [due to COVID].

On the way home, I read this piece of paper and it says, you know “malignant bowel obstruction, colonoscopy was aborted due to a complete blockage.”

I get on the Mayo Clinic site and it says, you got 12 to 15 months to live. That was the worst part, just that moment of realization where it’s like, wow, this is how it ends. It was a rough day.

How did you react in the short term?

My first inclination was to try not to react, because this just is it is what it is and there’s a lot of unknowns around it.

At that point, optimism was pretty hard to come by. To tell you the truth, my thoughts were. “okay dude, it’s time to start getting your stuff in order.” I had to figure out how to tell my wife, Kelly, without completely turning her inside out.

After the dust settled, what coping mechanisms did you use? What did you do to cope physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

I really went into get it done mode, staying rational and logical in getting prepared and doing everything to reduce the external effects of the diagnosis on others. I really felt, “this is your burden Scott, so don’t burden other people with it.” My mom’s 83 years old, so for the first day or two there was really a lot of processing around how I let the information out.

There were certainly parallels to my alcoholism, my one significant life challenge before cancer. Back in 2006, I realized that I was no longer able to control my drinking, and that it was starting to affect people. It was a life lesson, that nobody could change my behavior other than me. It was a hell of a hard fight to change things then, especially because I knew tons of people who drank as much as I did, and partied as much as I did. Really, I drew the short straw on the whole alcohol thing. A few days ago though, I celebrated 15 years in recovery.

When I got the cancer diagnosis, I thought, “well here’s another short straw.” I’d fought one epic battle of survival already over the last 14 years.” I wondered, “why do I have to fight another epic battle?” I got my life back together, got my relationships back, but here I was again, fourth down and 99 yards to go.

Is there a particular person you are grateful towards who helped you learn to cope and heal? Can you share a story about that?

One friend, Steve, a retired dentist whose wife is a cancer survivor, was phenomenal. He was good at helping decipher some of the terminology I was getting in reports. To me, they were written in a language that I couldn’t fully understand.

In my own cancer struggle, I sometimes used the idea of embodiment to help me cope. Let’s take a minute to look at cancer from an embodiment perspective. If your cancer had a message for you, what do you think it would want or say?

That message would probably be, “I’m here. You don’t see me, you don’t hear me, you don’t feel me, but I will silently kill you.”

It’s like alcoholism; it’s a disease that doesn’t tell you that you have it. People’s lives get destroyed by it before they even know it — before they even know they have it — because there’s no test for it. We’re really fortunate that Cologuard is available as a test now that’s non-invasive and literally takes 10 minutes.

What did you learn about yourself from this very difficult experience? How has cancer shaped your worldview? What has it taught you that you might never have considered before? Can you please explain with a story or example?

I had kind of a delayed epiphany, that you can’t come to conclusions too early and you have to live your best life. When my wife and I moved down here five years ago, we both had reasonably strenuous corporate careers. I traveled a ton, always looking at the next quarterly sales numbers, living the kind of high stress lifestyle that very frequently required me to move other things to the side in pursuit of my business aspirations. I came to the conclusion that that might have been a mistake, putting Scott second and achievement and financial success first.

The company that I was working for ceased operations pretty much the same week I got this diagnosis. It was funny because the job loss meant nothing in that moment. It was like, who cares? I was really forced to get my life priorities in order.

How have you used your experience to bring goodness to the world?

I’m just one middle-aged guy here in Arizona, but evangelism among my very small circle of influence became my thing. I tell everyone I get paired with on the golf course, “hey man get that colonoscopy or Cologuard test.” Disinformation and callous jokes are common among men when discussing colonoscopy, and to me, that is absolutely not acceptable.

I’m also involved in discussion groups online about golf and running, and whenever screening comes up I encourage people to go get tested at 45, to not push it to 51 or 52.

What are a few of the biggest misconceptions and myths out there about fighting cancer that you would like to dispel?

That you have to feel bad to have cancer. Even when I had a tennis ball sized cancer in my colon, I felt like I could run up the side a mountain. That’s why early detection is absolutely the biggest thing. Without it, you don’t know you’re sick and dying.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give to others who have recently been diagnosed with cancer? What are your “5 Things You Need To Beat Cancer? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Build and maintain a cooperative relationship with your doctor. Show up on time and do what he or she says.
     — I was reluctant to get screened, but doing so when my doctor suggested saved me from a ninja disease.
  2. Understand that it will be an epic struggle. — I really want to raise awareness around the kind of isolation I felt, because I have a very hard time believing that it doesn’t occur to a lot of people in a similar situation. Really, I’m shocked that the hospital let me out of there without talking to a mental health professional first. For me, things get pretty dark, because I knew my wife might’ve been hurting more than I was, or dealing with more fear than I was. You want to protect your loved ones, to not put more suffering on them emotionally or financially.
  3. Humility is a sure sign of strength — No one’s tougher than cancer, truly. Machismo or health history means nothing to a non-discriminatory disease. Men can make stupid, ignorant comments about colon cancer, but that doesn’t change the fact you can be asymptomatic like me and still get it.
  4. My final two pieces of advice, include to be honest with yourself, but know that having hope is not a bad thing. — You don’t have all the answers when it comes to cancer, because every case is different. I was a little confrontational at the time of diagnosis, feeling that there was a certain reality that I needed to acknowledge. My friend Steve made sure I kept my chin up and stayed optimistic. His hope and support meant so much to me.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be?

I would work to reduce that social stigma around colon cancer, using testimonials from opinion leaders and athletes, all the way down to the average Joe to show people that this doesn’t just happen to people who live unhealthy lifestyles. You can be healthy, and this bomb can still fall in your lap. The day I sent my Cologuard test back, I went for a 5-mile run.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them. 🙂

A couple years ago, it probably would have been Dan Price, a business leader. He has a worldview that very much aligns with my own.

Now, I’d say it’d be professional golfer, Phil Mickelson. When his wife Amy got sick with breast cancer, he dropped off the tour to take care of her and did what he could to raise awareness around the disease. I’d like to sit down or play golf with him and give him my sales pitch on giving a nod to colon cancer like he did for breast cancer. He’d be doing the world a lot of good by using his platform to reach guys like me.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I don’t have much of a social presence for discussing cancer, because I’m not going to let cancer define who I am. I will be an advocate, but I will not give cancer that degree of power over me.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

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