Despite just a little over a year ago being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer nearly unknown worldwide, Stu Craig of Mars Hill, Maine is now in remission and credits local support for making a big difference in his battle with a strain 

In November of 2015, Craig was eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The first bite went down easy. On the second bite he felt like he was having a heart attack. Later that evening, he and his wife Cathy went to a work-related dinner. While usually a quick eater, he was still cutting up his steak into smaller pieces even after his wife finished her meal; every time he swallowed the pain in his chest was unbearable.

Cathy and Stu Craig

Days later Craig made an appointment with Shelby Stiles, a Family Nurse Practitioner at TAMC’s Mars Hill Health Center.

Craig said, “I thought I had a hiatal hernia. She thought I had a shrunken esophagus.” Stiles was not convinced that it wasn’t something serious,so she referred Craig to Dr. Billington at TAMC.

“After he was finished the examination he said, ‘I hate to tell you but I think you’ve got cancer,’” said Craig.

Craig was sent to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where doctors diagnosed Craig with small cell esophageal cancer, a rare cancer that they had never seen before. In fact, Craig is one of only two hundred people around the world who suffer this form of the disease.

TAMC’s Aroostook Cancer Care was the place where Stu completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He has since been in remission.

“I had a PET scan in July and it shows nothing,” said Craig, “I refuse to lose.”

For some people, getting a cancer diagnosis can be an isolating experience. The patient may feel it’s a burden to place the details of their treatment on their friends or family, so they often keep it to themselves. Craig believes that’s the wrong path to take.

“You can’t do it alone,” said Craig. “Community support is a big thing.”

Craig is employed by the town of Mars Hill and says they supported him in a big way. A benefit supper and auction were held at Central Aroostook Jr/Sr High School and friends and family from all parts of the County, including many in the biker community Craig has been a member of for twenty years, attended.

“The support from Madawaska to Millinocket was just unreal. There were six or seven hundred people who showed up for hot dogs and beans,” said Craig. In addition, town employees, including Mars Hill town manager David Cyr, sacrificed the hair on their head at the 2016 Planet Head Day at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in Stu Craig’s name.

Mars Hill Town Manager David Cyr (left) shows support for his employee Stu Craig (right) at UMPI’s 2016 Planet Head Day. Stu Craig has been in remission since July 2016.

Just as importantly, the support wasn’t limited to special events, according to Craig. “I had a few people who would stop over and visit for an hour or so. Bikers would call to check in on me. It meant a lot.”

If he had to give advice to anyone it would be to keep in touch with your own body. “If you think something isn’t right, go to the doctor. If they tell you it’s something simple and you don’t believe them, get a second opinion. I didn’t need to.”

To someone recently diagnosed with cancer, Craig would tell them not to fight it on their own. “Get out there and get all the support you can. If people offer you food, take it; even if you don’t like it.”

Craig has big plans for the future. “I’ve got a grandson, Conall Kelly, who is two and a half years old and I want to see him graduate.”

Stu Craig of Mars Hill, esophageal cancer survivor, blows bubbles with grandson Conall.

Craig is being featured in December and January for Courage in The County, a series that spotlights local individuals and families who have shown great courage in fighting this terrible disease; encourages efforts that lead to early detection, and promotes activities that support local cancer patients.

Courage in The County is a collaboration of TAMC, Northern Maine Medical Center, Clukey’s Auto Supply, NorState Federal Credit Union and WAGM-TV.

 

 
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