2009 started like any other year, I was exiting the university football scene in pursuit of playing in the CFL. A dream I had since high school. In the forefront was tryout with the BC Lions coming in the spring and the focus was to become quicker, faster, stronger and a better more efficient route runner. With a 5’9 stature, I knew I had to put in the work, to get the edge I needed in order to make the coaches decisions a challenging one. Never the less, I’ve never been one to let size impede on my vision. It was at the beginning of training camp that I started to feel significantly different, I had lost 5 pounds (200 lbs to 195) and getting out of bed seemed unusually difficult. I ended up being released from the Lions after their spring camp. Needless to say I wasn’t at my best. Even at the time I had a hard time wanting to make an excuse for myself. I felt slow, weak, sore and drained of energy. A feelings I’ve never had before throughout a mini camp. I still had a tryout option with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. I reluctantly declined and opted out of the tryout, I did not want to admit it but something did not feel right. I had lost 20 lbs by July and I hadn’t been that light in weight since high school. I thought maybe it was stress. I took the summer off of training, school, and football to gather myself. I tried to hide what I was going through, not to be too graphic but I was having to go to the washroom anywhere between 12-20 times per day.
I had run into an old receiver coach of mine and he had asked me with concern, “Are you ok?” I replied, “Yes I’m fine I just think I have a bit of a stomach bug.” After this encounter, I decided to go to my doctor. At this point my symptoms were getting drastically worse, I had lost approximately 25 lbs and my energy level was at a low that I had never felt before. I went in for an appointment at the end of September, my doctor proceeded to tell me to give it a week and if the symptoms did not change we would run some tests. A week later and down 5 more pounds, I went back to my doctor.
I tried to exclude my family from this process as much as possible for fear that they would assume the worst. I felt it was the best thing to do until I felt the time was right. A colonoscopy was scheduled and I was preparing for the worst possible news. Colon Cancer? It had to be. I fell victim to my own curiosity and diagnosed myself through webMD. After I woke up, I received the news. I asked the doctor, “I am dying aren’t I?” He replied, “NO! You have ulcerative colitis!” Relief? Or so I thought. I had no idea what that was nor had I heard that term. An auto immune disease that is a cousin to Crones. They made it clear that sports would need to be put on the shelf until they found a medication that would put this into remission. This meeting seemed to be a positive one, sadly this is where it takes a more realistic turn.
I had to move back home with my parents so I could receive care. I had lost a total of 60 lbs and was hovering around the 140lb mark, my grade 9 weight. I could not work, train, or even efficiently, and my symptoms did not seem to subside. I tried every medication they had, prednisone, and 2 experimental medications that were supposed to help. The outcome was lost hair, increased acne, and blow to the spirit . 8 months of what I would deem mental hell. Physical challenges I was used to, but, this was a completely different situation. I kept telling my family, “this is not me, all I want is a one window of health and a promise I’ll get myself back.” My family and friends worried and began to seem demoralized over the span of my illness.
I had an amazing and understanding support system, however, I knew that I was fighting this alone. The only person who was going to get me out of this was me. When you have infinite amount of time on your hands and you are a formerly active individual with an equally active mind, you begin to do some research. I was in search for remedies and even more farfetched, the cure. In August of 2010 I found it, a full ileostomy. This meant the full removal of my colon or large intestine, with the success of this procedure I would be cured. Simple, right?
I proposed an Ileostomy to my doctor, and they didn’t believe I was ready. They felt that it would be better to experiment with a few more types of medications. Personally, I was done with that route. I wanted the surgery, and I was willing to do whatever it took. I told them that this was my decision and I didn’t feel that I should be judged on how I looked. I asked the doctors to do some research, and if they did they maybe they could believe in the person that is within. I went to Terry Fox High School. I used Terry as a means of motivation for my entire life. I felt like this was my moment to make him proud, no fear, no regrets, go for it all. The surgeon told me he would give me 3 months to prepare, I needed to gain a few pounds and my iron levels needed to increase. To the gym I went. I dragged whatever was left of my 125 lb frame and began to “train”. A moment I will never forget is when my sister had decided to join me. Freshly out of the Olympics she came to support me, and also to become my bench press spotter. The only problem was I was benching the bar with no weight on it. My sister, the ultra competitive human being that she is was baffled, so I knew a joke was coming my way, “1 rep! That’s it?” I had laughed and said, “Hey! We are where we are.” I tried to put a comedic spin on the situation but it was daunting, considering a year ago I was benching 310 lbs and cannot recall one time in my life that the bench bar was my max. However, the goal was not to create personal bests; the goal ws to prove my worth and get surgery. After a visit with my gastroenterologist I met my potential surgeon, he had told me we could be looking at a date in December, I was elated. I had gained 1lb and I was ready, after all of this time 1lb felt like 25 lbs.
The call came on December 6th, “Hi Scott. We have a Date for you December 23rd.” I marked it on my calendar, it was the day I was going to get my life back. I had hit a down spell before surgery, I had to wean off of my steroid medication that was providing me energy. On the day of the surgery, the whole family woke up at 4 am. I had no strength on the day that I deemed I was making my comeback, my dad had to carry me into the car. Humbling, but I did not care. All I could say was, “just get me to the surgeon. The day of surgery I was 130 lbs. My surgeon Dr. Garaway told me, “Scotty, it’s going to feel like a truck hit you.” I replied, “Sure, bring on the truck.” When someone tells you that, it’s hard to believe that it will feel as such. I mean how many people have been hit by a truck and lived to tell about it? Well, let’s just say on Christmas Day it felt like Santa’s sleigh had run me over and then in the midst of it all I had all 8 of Santa’s reindeer stomp on me too. The pain was excruciating for the better part of the month. When Santa metaphorically ran over me he left a gift, the gift of life. The surgery was a success.
Having a colostomy bag wasn’t the most glamorous of accessories but it was part of the deal. 6 months and 2 more surgeries would free me of it; 100% worth it. I had asked for my window of health and I received it. Two months after surgery I was back working out, the next goal on my mind was to get back to personal training. 40 lbs was the goal, if I could get to 160 lbs I thought that was a significant amount of weight to look presentable to help lead clients. After two months of training I reached my desired goal, no supplements, just good nutrition and getting back to the old workout plans that I had been accustomed to. People have asked what I have a learnt through this process. I had lost everything that essentially had defined me my entire life, my athletic, ability and my body; however, it did not take away my drive. I valued life, or at least I thought I did, but now I value life in a different way. I value others lives more than ever.
I’ve always enjoyed helping others but since this journey, it seems to be the only thing that brings me happiness. I also learned to value relationships and that life is too short to be doing something or be somewhere that does not bring you happiness. Money is not the prime objective but instead being about a cause and a vision. It’s what Terry Fox represented, a message. A message to bring awareness to cancer in the event one day it might be beaten. Essentially, a higher purpose. The message that I want to convey is that you should never give up on yourself and take your health for granted. Good health is a beautiful gift that we must do our best to cherish everyday. With this message, I aim to help others pursue a sustainable path to health and wellness through physical activity that suits their personality, lifestyle, occupation and skill set. If we combine that with a balanced, educated and sustainable approach to nutrition we can live a life of energy, passion and gain self-confidence.