Joe Bullock


Joe Bullock's strong arm

About: In summer 2017, a couple of months after Joe’s dad died from a long-term illness, he started to have some abdominal pains and fatigue, which he figured was brought on from the stress of settling his dad’s estate and dealing with his death. Joe started to have a small amount of blood in his stool. He ignored all of this for the following months since he thought it was the grief from his dad’s death and family issues that he was having at the time. In October 2017, Joe went to a scheduled doctor’s appointment for a routine physical. He told his doctor about the symptoms he was having at the time. Because Joe just turned 50, his doctor told him, “It was time to get a colonoscopy.”

Joe scheduled his colonoscopy for a few weeks later in November. Two days before his procedure, his mom died suddenly of a heart attack. Once again, Joe ignored his symptoms and canceled his colonoscopy to help his sister to settle their mom’s estate and last wishes. Joe just continued to “gut it out” and ignore the pain he was feeling over those previous months. He believed the fatigue and stress in his body was being caused by all the emotional turmoil.Over the next few weeks, he became deeply saddened by his mom’s loss because they had made holiday plans right before she died. Joe was devastated. Joe  felt emotionally and physically weak. Little did he know: It was cancer that was causing his pain and discomfort.

Finally in spring 2018, at the urging of his wife, Joe rescheduled his colonoscopy, which had not been a high priority.  He had ‘Doctor Googled’  enough that he figured his pain and discomfort might be cancer. He hoped he was wrong. He and his wife drove to the GI clinic for his colonoscopy. As the procedure began, Joe drifted off to sleep because of the twilight drugs they had given him. Joe’s doctor discovered a tumor, but was able to get around it and remove two small polyps. His doctor marked, measured and biopsied his tumor. 

Joe’s doctor was supportive and hoped they caught his cancer early. Joe went to the room where his wife was waiting for him.

When he got to the waiting room, Joe couldn’t bear to  look his wife in the eyes. He felt tremendous guilt for not dealing with his cancer earlier that year, and he knew he had just turned their  world upside down. His wife grabbed his hand as they listened to the doctor. Joe’s wife is a nurse, and she was able to comprehend the clinical side of Joe’s diagnosis, but they needed help dealing with the emotional turmoil that cancer caused. Not only does cancer take a physical toll, but it crushes you mentally as well. Joe and his wife felt it was important to heal physically and emotionally during his cancer journey.

Joe’s wife is a nurse at the same hospital as his cancer center. She figured out the plan of action along with his care team at the hospital. The plan was to kill the cancer, and then surgery to remove my tumor from his colon and any infected lymph nodes (there were three). Joe had his colon resected during surgery. After surgery the plan was to do ‘clean up’ chemotherapy of Oxaliplatin infusions every three weeks with Xeloda pills in between each session. He was doing fine at first until the emotional side effects of cancer hit him, and he became a sad and broken man. He could handle the physical side effects, but the loneliness and self-isolation during treatment overwhelmed him. He became a sad person who was fearful the cancer had spread. The stress at times was overwhelming. 

Joe’s oncologist noticed how sad and stressed Joe looked, and told him to remember, ‘We got you!’ and their plan of action. He suggested Joe and his wife talk with a therapist. Joe thought he was ‘fine,” but for his wife, the pressure of being his caregiver, a full-time nurse, and mom was too much pressure for her, and she could not be Joe’s only sounding board.He agreed to listen to her and seek help.  Joe wasn’t going to let cancer steal my marriage and hurt the ones he loves. 

After a few sessions with my therapist, Joe attended a local support group. It was helpful to talk to other patients going through the same thing. Then a few people told him about some online groups, and Joe started to reach out to other men online looking for support and he began to feel better when he found other men with cancer in a similar situation as he was..

After Joe finished chemotherapy, he waited a month before he took his first set of scans. He received the results that every colon cancer patient hopes to hear: “NED (No Evidence of Disease).” Joe says that news is like a gift you don’t know how to unwrap. He went out to celebrate with his family that night, but he wasn’t sure what he would do next. He wondered how he could feel good when so many were in such a different circumstance than he was.

His therapist encouraged him to continue to attend the support group. She believed that his status of NED’ would bring a lot of hope to other members of the group. She also told me that him that he might find he needed support from the group as a survivor. She was right!

Joe found himself grieving his cancer journey. The anxiety of recurrence was starting to settle into his mind. To get past that was another battle in his cancer journey. It was months before he realized giving back to others in the cancer community is the greatest way to combat this kind of anxiety! 

A fellow cancer patient and member of Colontown, Charles Griffin Jr., encouraged Joe early on in his stage IIIb colon cancer diagnosis to find ways to share his cancer story with the community. Charles told Joe that sharing his story was a way for Joe to give back to the community. Men typically don’t want to talk about their cancer story or are ashamed they have cancer. Charlesbecame a huge part of Joe’s cancer story. After Charles died in summer 2019, Joe was reminded of the words Charles told him and others in a speech Charleshad given to a group of cancer survivors. In his speech, ‘We Are All Glow Sticks,’ Charles told everyone that being a cancer patient is like being a glow stick, ‘You have to be broken to shine.’ Joe had been broken, and now he needed to shine. Joe will never forget those words and set out on a mission to discover how do that as a survivor. He looked for ways to encourage other cancer patients at his local cancer center. He participated in a couple of local fundraisers and started to share his cancer story in various colon cancer groups. 

At the end of 2019, Joe met a fellow cancer patient and Colontown member Trevor Maxwell. Trevor is living with metastatic stage IV colon cancer. Trevor had been building a framework for a webpage and writing a book about the physical and mental struggles that surround men going through cancer. He calls it, “Man Up To Cancer.” Trevor wants to change the narrative to what ”manning up’ means to cancer” means. This means having an open heart and a warrior spirit as they battled cancer. Trevor asked Joe to help  build a Facebook support group “The Howling Place,” as a component of the webpage. The idea is that a wolfpack supports each other. Previously, Joe sent friend requests on Facebook to offer friendship and support to men who had a cancer diagnosis of any type.Trevor asked Joe to be the lead administrator of the Facebook group.  January 1, 2020, Joe invited over 200 men to join the group and most of them joined within the following days. We currently have almost 1,500 men in “The Wolfpack” as the men of “The Howling Place” like to be known. Joe continues to fight the anxiety that comes from the worry of recurrence, but now he has “Wolfpack” to run with.  Joe has decided that if, “Cancer is done with me, I am not done with cancer.” Joe’s journey as a cancer advocate began with the Wolfpack, and now extends to hosting duties with Climb for a Cure, North Carolina so that he can help raise awareness for colorectal cancer, fundraise for cutting-edge research on a Path to a Cure, and provide support to the colorectal cancer community. . 

Why Joe climbs: “To help fund research for colorectal cancer. I wanted to host a Climb for a Cure of my own as a goal of my survivorship and honor others that inspired me.”

What keeps Joe motivated: “Finding a cure. I have lost too many friends to this disease.”

Joe’s advice to Climbers: “Start training now!”