“I couldn’t ever just sit and let this happen to me without fighting,” said Yellowknifer Darrel Mack, who is undergoing surgery this week following a stage four cancer diagnosis this spring.
At the beginning of the year, Mack was about to change careers and transition into a role as a maintenance supervisor for the territorial parks around Yellowknife.
“It was the greatest opportunity,” he said.
But just before he started in January, he got sick. What he first imagined to be a bad cold was subsequently diagnosed as esophageal cancer, which then spread to his liver.
“Leela and I were expecting to hear a game plan on how we’re going to tackle this and how we’re going to beat it,” recalled Mack.
“And then, next thing, [the doctor is] saying: ‘We can’t do anything. We’re gonna start using palliative.’”
Instead of planning how to fight the cancer, Mack and his wife, musician Leela Gilday, were asking how much time he had left. They were told one to two years.
“That was the hardest thing we’ve ever heard,” he said. “It deflated us. We were so beat.”
By the next day, Mack had decided he would not accept there was nothing they could do.
“I’m not taking it like that. I don’t want palliative. I have too much of a life to live for my family,” he said.
Mack and Gilday each wrote to a panel of doctors working on his case, “essentially begging,” he said, to give him a chance to fight.
The doctors ultimately suggested giving him “the heaviest chemo therapy you could give,” Mack said, followed by two major surgeries and more chemo.
On Thursday, a 14-hour surgery to remove his stomach will take place. Two months later, once he’s strong enough, he is scheduled to have half of his liver removed. When he has recovered from that, he’ll undergo chemotherapy again.
“I’m going to be in pretty rough shape,” he predicted. “But I’m going to be cancer-free, and that’s what it’s all about, so I don’t care what kind of shape I’ll be in after that. That’s when I start living my new life.”
Mack said the first nine rounds of chemo were “really intense,” landing him in the hospital’s emergency ward more than two-dozen times when he needed help managing the pain.
But then he would get through it, get up, and keep working out.
“I just never quit … I think about all the other people that are sicker than me. I think about little kids, I think about older people that are going through the same thing as me. And not everyone can fight.”
He says he is afraid about what’s going to happen – doctors have told him he could die during surgery – but is going into it with faith.
“I’m excited to do it because it’s a chance to get half the cancer out of me and there’s no other way. I’m leaving myself in God’s hands and whatever happens, happens. I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Mack recently publicly shared his diagnosis and surgery, but forgot the main reason he started the post in the first place: so that next summer, when he has recovered from surgery, people will know why he looks so different.
“I’m going to lose, like, 10 percent of my body weight because I won’t be able to eat for a long time. And I’ll lose probably 20 pounds permanently,” he said.
He said he decided to speak with Cabin Radio because he hasn’t had time to get back to all of the people who have reached out because he is focused on the upcoming surgery. This interview, he said, was a way to reach everyone.
“I’ve gotten so much love from everybody,” he said. “It’s been given to my entire family.”
He thanked everyone for their prayers, his friend Trevor Lizotte for starting a GoFundMe to help the family with expenses, and the nursing staff at the emergency department at Yellowknife’s hospital.
“The nurses care. They’re the ones that have had me at my worst, and have helped me,” he said. “They stand out the most.”