TREASURE ISLAND — Five years ago, Gene Evans got some very bad news.
Doctors discovered stage 4 kidney cancer. Evans, who was 48 at the time, was otherwise healthy.
After months of aggressive treatment at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, including radiation and several surgeries, Evans was deemed cancer-free in early 2011. This weekend he’s holding the fourth annual Paddle Against Cancer to raise money for and spread awareness of Moffitt and its anti-cancer mission.
“So I'm coming up on 3½ years clear, five years since the diagnosis,” he said. “After going through all the treatment at Moffitt, I wanted to give something back.”
The event, which is today, raised more than $70,000 in its first three years. He expects to push that past $100,000 today, he said.
The effort grew out of his love for water activities, namely stand-up paddling.
Dozens of boarders and kayakers will launch this morning from the Club at Treasure Island, where they will take either a 3- or 7-mile course. A poolside party and silent auction will follow.
Many of the participants are cancer survivors, Evans said, or have otherwise have been affected by the condition by way of a loved one. Proceeds will benefit the center, which researches, treats and provides education about the disease.
The event also aims to urge early detection measures and convey the message that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence — things Evans now knows well.
“The message that he brings is that it's worth fighting and can happen to anybody,” said Frank Vrionis, the neurosurgeon who treated Evans.
At the time of his diagnosis, Evans had been healthy otherwise, with no genetic, environmental or lifestyle factors predisposing him to the condition, Vrionis said. The avid stand-up paddleboarder had been getting back pain while out on the water. The diagnosis came when he got it checked out.
“It was a shock,” he said. “It was a shock. I probably went through about three weeks when I climbed into a little shell and couldn't get out.”
Doctors ultimately convinced him that if he did all the right things, he would have a shot. So Evans said he managed to think positively and tackle the sickness head-on.
“It just proves the point that there's a mind process; he refused to adapt to a sick role,” Vrionis said. “I certainly believe that his story can very strongly inspire others. ... There's a lot of patients who need the inspiring message, and they need hope, and they need a fighting chance.”