Wade Hayes: ‘Go Live Your Life’
In October 2011, country artist Wade Hayes was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to most of his liver, a small portion of his diaphragm and gall bladder, and his lymph nodes. Under the care of gastrointestinal oncologist Dr. Jordan Berlin and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center care team, Wade, now 50, has survived his colon cancer – twice. And his story has become a part of his shows: The song “Go Live Your Life” is based on his oncologist’s words at the end of treatment.
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The show must go on, right?
Though country artist Wade Hayes had experienced more minor issues, one night as he prepared to fly to Houston, Texas, for a concert, he doubled over with abdominal pain. He took aspirin, got some sleep and traveled to perform the show. When he returned to Nashville, he went to the doctor and then for a colonoscopy.
In October 2011, Wade was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to most of his liver, a small portion of his diaphragm and gall bladder, and his lymph nodes: “From that moment on, things were never – and never will be – the same,” Wade said.
Under the care of gastrointestinal oncologist Dr. Jordan Berlin and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center care team, Wade, 50, has now survived his colon cancer – twice. And his story has become a part of his shows: The song “Go Live Your Life” is based on his oncologist’s words at the end of treatment and now, it’s how he closes every night.
Better life in nashville
An Oklahoma native, Wade moved to Music City in the early 1990s for the same reason as so many others – to make a career in the music business. Within three months, he had a publishing contract and then nine months later, a record deal. The next year brought his first album release and the first two of his three No. 1 hits, including title track, “Old Enough to Know Better.”
“Everything was new. I had never been on an airplane before and had barely been out of Oklahoma,” said Wade, who racked up two Gold records and multiple Top 10 hits. “My life got better instantly when I moved here. This town’s been good to me.”
At the time of his diagnosis, Wade was in his early 40s and healthy. He worked out regularly, ate a healthy diet, and had no family history of colon cancer.
When Wade’s diagnosis came, his friend Kix Brooks (Wade had toured with his country duo Brooks & Dunn) recommended Dr. Berlin. Soon Wade was in Dr. Berlin’s care at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center and underwent extensive surgery in December.
“The initial surgery was a marathon. They removed over twenty inches of my large intestine and the way it was put to me, sixty to seventy-five percent of my liver, part of my diaphragm, my gall bladder. …I lost some weight that day,” Wade said.
Dr. Berlin acknowledged that the odds were stacked against Wade’s long-term survival, and it took a team to coordinate his care, which also included chemotherapy.
“In treating him, I was not alone,” Dr. Berlin said. “We had a team when we talked about how we were going to treat him. When I say ‘we,’ I don’t mean it was me and I’m pretending there were other people. We met as a tumor board, a multi-disciplinary team. That’s one of the things that makes us great is that we work together. His surgeon and I sit next to each other in clinic; we looked at the films together and we went over the films with the radiologists together. We went over the pathology specimens, the biopsies and the resection specimens together. And we went over it with other people in our specialties to see if others agreed or disagreed. Every patient gets multi-disciplinary care here. We all work together.
“The culture of collaboration at Vanderbilt is real. We are better together than we are alone.”
A year later, Wade’s cancer came back and with the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center team, he repeated the process of surgery, chemotherapy and other procedures to get his liver working again. At this point, Wade has lost count of his surgeries and procedures. For a second time, the team saw him through.
In remission again, Wade faced the decision of whether to take out his port, a special catheter in the chest that allows chemotherapy to be administered without having to place IVs in patients every time they come in for treatment.
“We were in his office and Dr. Berlin had decided he wanted to take the port out for the second time,” Wade said. “We were going over my bloodwork and lab results, and he said, ‘We’re going to take your port out. You were Stage 4 and now there’s no evidence of the disease,’ and he was explaining to me what a big deal it was to come back from Stage 4. Then he told me, ‘You need to go live your life,’ and those specific words hit me like a ton of bricks.”
Wade went home and called songwriter Bobby Pinson, and the two wrote the upbeat anthem about making the most of every day.
‘Go Live Your Life’
Around the five-year mark Wade started feeling normal again. He proposed to his girlfriend Lea Bayer, whom he met through her first cousin, country singer John Rich, and they married in January 2019.
They live with their two rescue dogs Jack and Holly on a farm outside of Nashville, where Wade enjoys restoring old pick-up trucks and writes songs while he’s mowing. Songwriting is a bigger focus for him, and the lyrics he writes feel more meaningful to him now.
But he still tours, and he ends each show by singing “Go Live Your Life.” And afterward, he talks, prays and cries with fans who come up to talk to him about their own cancer experiences or loved ones’.
“I feel like this is part of the deal,” Wade said. “I was a broken person when I showed up at Vanderbilt, and statistically, I should not be here. My life was spared to help others. I try my best to make the most of this and help others that are going through this. I’ve certainly come to rethink what matters in life and realize most of the things that I really wanted and was concerned about before didn’t mean that much in the long run.
“And I feel, I honestly feel, that had I not met the exact people that I met at Vanderbilt, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Go live your life
Go chase your dreams
We've got no way of knowing what tomorrow brings
Swing for the fence
Take that chance
Don't wake up one day to see it's passed you by
Go live your life”