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I'm five years cancer-free.

Hard to believe it's been that long. On July 3, 2009, I was battling an advanced case of rectal cancer. I had already undergone 25 radiation treatments, six weeks of chemotherapy and a surgical procedure that left me with a temporary colostomy. Another procedure to reverse the colostomy followed, along with six more months of chemotherapy.

Last week, I celebrated the five years cancer-free milestone with my surgeon, Dr. Jonathan Laryea at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. That visit was a lot happier than our first one.

I missed writing only one column during that entire ordeal. The reason is simple. Whenever you are in a survival situation, you need a task upon which to focus your energy. If, for example, you're stranded in the wilderness, you must concentrate on building or finding shelter, finding food and making fire.

It's the same when you're fighting a life-threatening illness. You can lie in bed and put yourself at the mercy of fear, anger and pain, or you move forward to the extent that your physical limitations will allow. I certainly didn't feel like getting out, but being afield and on the water were the only things that gave me relief.

Faith was my anchor and my compass, but hunting and fishing were potent therapies.

Dr. Rangaswamy Govindarijan is my oncologist. Before I began the first round of chemotherapy in March 2009, I had to have an intravenous port installed in my shoulder through which the chemo would be administered. I asked Dr. Govin, as he is called, if I could have it placed in my left shoulder. Turkey season was approaching, and I wanted to be able to fire a shotgun. He gave me a long, probing look and smiled.

"I think you are going to be OK," he said.

Days later, I was on the Ouachita River with Mark Roberts fishing for walleyes. I was hooked up to a bottle of chemo that I carried in my shirt pocket, and I had a persistent case of pneumonia that resisted initial rounds of antibiotics. My wife confided that she didn't think I was going to make it. I admit I had my doubts, too, but, by gosh, if I was going out, I was going out doing something I enjoyed.

That day I caught and landed a 19-pound striper on an ultralight rig with 6-pound test line. It will always be one of my favorite memories.

A week later, as the pneumonia raged, Roberts and I caught crappie on the Saline River near Benton, and we followed it up with a walleye trip on the Little Red River.

I fished for crappie on Lake Ouachita with Bill Eldridge of Benton, and I fished for smallmouth bass and hunted ducks at Lake Dardanelle with Alan Thomas. I hunted grouse, pheasants and mountain quail in Idaho with David Sikes of Corpus Christi and Alan Sands of Boise.

I fished for snook, redfish, shark and speckled trout around St. Petersburg, Fla., with Sikes, Ron Henry Strait of San Antonio and Bill AuCoin of St. Pete. I hunted doves in Argentina with John Burnett and Chester Phillips and Don Holbert of Little Rock. I hunted turkeys, ducks and deer with Sheffield Nelson. I hunted deer and bass fished with Mike Romine of Mabelvale, and I caught a 28-pound striper with my brother Brad.

My sons became my constant fishing companions. Those trips brought me greater healing than all the medicine in the world. The friends and loved ones who shared them are more precious to me than gold.

When you've had the lower part of your tailpipe removed, you revert to infancy with respect to certain functions. I adapted and slowly regained control, but the first three years are really tough. You want to withdraw from any public interaction. Some of the mishaps are funny now, but they were humiliating at the time.

On the water, though, it was almost never an issue. It was the only place I was ever at peace. One of the nurses at UAMS said there must have been something about it that allowed me to relax enough to give my body some relief.

Some of you are traveling on this journey now. Be patient. Better days are ahead. Don't give in, no matter how bad your body and spirit hurt.

Treat yourself to some quality time afield. You've earned it, and you don't need a prescription.

Sports on 07/03/2014

Print Headline: Getting outdoors a healing experience

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