Rectal Cancer Wasn’t Going to Defeat Me

For cancer survivor Don Leighton, a long-time principal and superintendent, cancer was a nuisance. And he wasn’t going to let it be any more than that. Don talks about his rectal cancer treatment and how he decided he wasn’t going to let his cancer stop him from living his life.

Don went through thirty chemotherapy treatments, thirty radiation treatments and even had surgery and he still considered his bout with rectal cancer as nothing more than a nuisance that wasn’t going to stop him from living his life.

“My cancer was a nuisance. People don’t understand that, but it was a nuisance. I came in once a week. That’s a nuisance. Came in everyday for the radiation. That was a nuisance. I had no pain with any of this, except when I ate ice cream,” Don explains. “It was a nuisance because everything was minor with me. I was so fortunate. I didn’t have much to complain about and I still don’t have anything to complain about.”

Don recalls how he he found out about his cancer by accident. He had been traveling and was heading back home when he noticed some discomfort. He went to see a doctor in South Dakota.”The doctor told me that I was one of those guys who couldn’t spell the test Colonoscopy. I hadn’t taken one of them my whole life and I was seventy-two,” Don says. “And she says “you will have one within a week.’”

He had the colonoscopy and found out that he had a three inch tumor. And it was malignant. “I was scared. Very scared,” Don remembers. “It’s a different life when you find out that you have cancer. The unknown is terrible because even today, being cancer free, I know full well that anytime I walk back in here, it could happen again.” Don is quick to note that he’s still ornery, but maybe not quite as ornery as he used to be.”

During his lengthy treatment, Don mentions how important it was for him to maintain his daily routine. “I think what I did was what a lot of people try but I felt successful. I didn’t change my routine. I still sent to ballgames. Will went downtown and played cards. “People asked me at ballgames when I was going to start my treatments and be shocked when they found out I was done with it or a third done with it,” he recalls. “That same time I was taking treatments my wife and I went to thirty-five boys and girls basketball games between Winside and Columbus,” he says. “It didn’t stop us. We wouldn’t let it stop us. Didn’t stop my orneriness,” Don adds.

“What’s going to really fight the cancer more than anything is to change your attitude to a positive attitude and say I’m going to enjoy the what life I have left. If I have to die in a year, two years, then I’m going to enjoy the heck out of the two years that I’ve got.”

Don recalls the advice he was given from a good friend who was told that he had maybe five years to live. “They told me five years, but boy did I enjoy those five years,” Don says his friend told him.

When you go through cancer you need to try and stay positive, Don points out. “The strongest thing that you can get, and I would work on it tremendously, is to try and keep a positive attitude. Don’t let it defeat you before it’s time.”

Visit our Colorectal Cancer Awareness page to learn more about rectal and colon cancer.