Country musician Wade Hayes had no idea he had colon cancer until it was almost too late. He’d had telltale signs: bleeding and lethargy—which is caused by anemia due to blood loss—for a couple of years. But these symptoms began when he was only 40 years old, a decade younger than when initial colon cancer screening is recommended. And he had no family history of the disease. Taking all of this into account, a doctor friend attributed Wade’s bleeding to his heavy weightlifting.

“He thought I had internal bleeding from a hemorrhoid,” Wade recalls. “I just kind of blew it off.”

In 2011, however, his symptoms became too severe to overlook. “I doubled-over in the kitchen from pain and started bleeding profusely,” Wade says. Even so, he flew from Nashville, Tennessee to Houston, Texas the next day to perform. He had a colonoscopy as soon as he got home, and follow-up tests showed he had stage IV colon cancer that had spread to most of his liver.

Then his luck turned for the better. Friend and fellow musician Kix Brooks was on the board of the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville and sent Wade there. His medical team had planned to start treatment with radiation, but had to hold off when a CT (computed tomography) scan revealed a tumor constricting his large intestine.

“It forced emergency surgery,” Wade says. “They took out 20 inches of large intestine, about two-thirds of my liver, and part of my diaphragm.” His doctors told him they’d gotten all the cancer.

Next came a month of recovery, followed by chemotherapy. That gave him some downtime for research, and he learned his chances of survival were only 12%. Wade withstood that dark time partly by envisioning a future when he was healthy again. “The thing that got me in trouble in school—daydreaming—got me through,” he says.

Wade also found relief in writing his song Is It Already Time, which includes the lyrics:

            How you’re supposed to take it

            When you get that kind of news?

            Just hold on

            And wait for some damn test

            Nothing I could say or do right then could change a thing

            So I sat there alone, wonderin’

            Is it already time?

In 2012, a blood test showed his cancer was back. So Wade underwent an additional 6 months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors, followed by another round of surgery. “I look like a baseball under my clothes,” he says.

Recovering from his second round of chemotherapy and surgery took most of 2013, but this year Wade is touring again, and he has a new album due out early next year. One of the songs was inspired when his oncologist, who has since become a friend, said he was cancer-free and that he needed to go live his life. Called Go Live Your Life, the song includes the lyrics:

            I made a vow

            If I pull through

            I wouldn’t take for granted

            What I used to do

Now, Wade tries to make every day count. “Most people don’t make it,” he says. “I’m a walking miracle—not only am I alive, but I’m doing extremely well.”

Early on, his oncologist told him about a nine-year survivor of stage IV colon cancer. “That gave me hope,” Wade says. “That’s one of the biggest things you need, and my goal is to return the favor and give someone else hope.”

Follow Wade Hayes on Twitter @wadehayes1, and Facebook