When Darlene Wade was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2006, she didn’t know much about the disease. Now, the Chicago resident is a volunteer with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, helping others with their journey.
“I knew when I hit 50 I had to do a colonoscopy, but that’s about all,” she said. “Now I know a lot.”
Darlene was only 46 years old when she was diagnosed with stage III colorectal cancer. There were signs that something could be wrong. She’d tell doctors she was tired a lot, and sometimes she experienced diarrhea. She was also anemic, a fairly common condition that can be a sign of cancer.
“They said, ‘You’re really overweight, and you should get weight loss surgery,’ and that was it,” Darlene said. “No one checked anything.”
After her diagnosis, Darlene was angry. During chemotherapy, she didn’t want anyone with her, she said. Nurses left the door cracked as she received treatment alone.
But one day, everything changed.
“There was this young man—he looked like he was 16—and he was doing his chemo, walking around, and he looked into my room and smiled,” Darlene recalled. “And I thought to myself, this child is doing the same thing you’re doing, and he’s smiling. You don’t have to be angry.”
Darlene resolved to stay positive going forward, regardless of the situation.
“Sometimes the white blood cell count was out of control, or I’d feel like I’d have to throw up,” Darlene said. “I just pulled myself together and said OK, I’m ready. I didn’t want to stop treatment.”
Today, Darlene finds strength in prayer and purpose in volunteering. As a volunteer in the Alliance’s Buddy Program, Darlene talks with allies who are new in their journey.
She shares her story and some powerful advice: “I’m not going to sugar coat it, it’s not fun, but you can do it—you can see the light in the tunnel and you’ll be done. You just really have to believe it.”
Sometimes, her buddies just want someone to listen.
“When they’re talking, they’re venting, and I just listen,” Darlene said. “I always tell them if you’re in trouble or not sure what’s happening, you need to talk to the doctor. If you don’t understand, tell the doctor to dumb it down because you need to know what’s happening to you.”
Darlene said volunteering with the Alliance can be rewarding.
“If I can get someone to say, ‘Yes, I’m positive and I’m going to do this,’ or if they finish chemo and call me to say they’re done, then it’s more than worth it,” Darlene said.
If you’re interested in volunteering with the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, please fill out this application.