Last October, Andrew Stevens watched his wife drive out of Rockfish Gap in Shenandoah National Park, where he was “left staring at 160 wild miles to the north.” It would be a challenging walk in the woods for anyone—especially someone with stage-four colon cancer.
But Stevens had been planning this Shenandoah trek long before he was diagnosed with colon cancer and given “maybe three months” to live by his doctor. He endured chemotherapy and endless hospital visits and blood tests.
“At first, Andrew was so sick that he couldn’t do anything,” explained his wife, Sarah Stevens. “When he finally started getting better, he vowed, ‘I’m going to make every day worth it and do what I can to be happy in the time I have.’”
Three years after being diagnosed, Stevens stepped onto the trail and started with “a terrible climb, gaining 700 feet of elevation in barely even a quarter mile,” he wrote of the first day.
Stevens, better known on the trail as “Chemosabe,” only made it a couple of days on the trail of that 160-mile hike he named Cancer Takes a Hike with his brother, Dan Stevens, and his good friend Steve Roberts. Complaining of hip and back pain, he left the trail and headed back to the hospital. And before his tests results returned with the news of a tumor, this time in his left hip, he returned to the trail to finish the last two days of the hike. They were the last days he would ever hike. Stevens, 31, died on January 30 of this year.
Cancer Takes a Hike, an event created by Stevens, has become an annual event to raise money and awareness for colon cancer. This year’s hike takes place from October 4 to 18, starting in Damascus and ending in Pearisburg. Stevens’ younger brother, Dan Stevens, helped organize the hike.
“My brother was my hero. “He had been my role model for a very long time–way before he got diagnosed….This hike for me is a way to continue his love.”
Stevens’ love for the outdoors gave him strength to endure. “It helped him feel that cancer wasn’t dictating his life,” said his father, Randy Stevens, a pastor in Martinsville, Va. “Hiking was his way of taking control of his life.”
Colon cancer—also known as colorectal cancer—is the third most diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the US. The American Cancer Society estimates that about 146,970 new cases and 49,920 deaths are expected this year.
Find out how to join the next hike or support the cause at http://cancertakesahike.org.