Interview: Wade Hayes Explains How His Battle With Cancer Inspired New Album, Changed His Life
Wade Hayes has a new lease on life, and he wants everyone to know about it. The singer has fought cancer twice -- first, Stage IV colon cancer in 2011, then in his lymph nodes in 2013 -- but after being declared cancer free again, Hayes has a new outlook on life ... and he isn't looking back.
"It has changed me profoundly," Hayes tells The Boot. "Things like, specifically, if it’s a clear night, I’m going to be outside looking at the stars, because they fascinate me now. And that’s something I would have totally overlooked if this hadn't happened, how precious this life is. How nice it is to be able to get up out of bed and be able to go do what I need to do, to live. It’s incredible.
"Unfortunately, it took this for me to realize," he adds, "but I truly am trying to make the most of every day I've been given now."
Unsurprisingly, Hayes' new music was affected by his cancer battles as well. Hayes released a new album, Go Live Your Life, in February, and the title track was inspired by something his doctor said after giving him a clean bill of health.
"He said, 'I want you to listen to me. I want you go live your life,'" Hayes recalls. "And it hit me like a ton of bricks. He was telling me, a) 'You’re very fortunate to be here.' I know my case is atypical. I was Stage IV and given a 12 percent chance of surviving when I was initially diagnosed, and now there’s no cancer at all. And, b) [he was saying,] 'You were Stage IV. This spread throughout your body, and there’s always a risk of it coming back. Go live your life.'"
The Oklahoma native made those words his new mantra and felt compelled to share that message with his fans as well.
"I thought and thought and thought, and re-wrote and re-wrote that song, until it was a message that I felt comfortable relaying to people," Hayes continues. "The bottom line to that song is, this life is flying by, and we never know what’s waiting around the corner from us, so go live it. Find that thing that makes you happy. Don’t take for granted wonderful things in your life, and try to enjoy them.
"I decided this song needs to be written," Hayes adds. "Just picking and choosing the parts -- taking life for granted was, I think, the thing that I was chiefly guilty of, looking back on everything, and realizing how thankful I am to walk around, unencumbered, with something not hanging out of my body, or not being in a hospital bed. You name it. But to walk around free is something that everybody takes for granted."
Hayes has also made it his mission to educate others about the importance of early screening for colon cancer.
"There is no way in the world that I could have known I had Stage IV cancer when I found out," he acknowledges. "I thought I was healthy. I was too young to have colon cancer. No family history. It was a rude awakening. And to come out the other side of it, it’s really -- this is a big cliche, but it’s really as if I’m looking at the world through a different set of eyes now, and I realize how much I did take for granted."
The two bouts with cancer also affected Hayes' spiritual life, which he freely shares with anyone who will listen.
"I will tell anybody. And I say, ‘Don’t ask if you don’t want to know,'" he admits. "I will tell anybody, God has made it painfully clear, He is the reason I’m still here. There have been too many things go just right in order for me still to be walking around. I can see how it was God and how He turned all things to work toward the good. Not just some things. This was a very unpleasant experience. But we are turning chicken poop into chicken salad."
The last few years have also affected how Hayes writes music in general. After scoring a series of hits in the '90s with songs like "Old Enough to Know Better" and "The Day That She Left Tulsa (in a Chevy)," he now finds himself writing all kinds of music again, which is surprisingly freeing to him.
"Every song can’t be "Bridge Over Troubled Water,"" Hayes acknowledges. "But we need some of the other light stuff. I like a good musical song. They don’t have to be heavy lyrically, or well thought out. Just fun, and those certainly have their place."
"To be honest with you, I've noticed an increase in crowd size and an increase in merchandise and records sold, and I think it’s all reflective on my new attitude on all of this, and my new appreciation," Hayes notes. "And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I ever did not appreciate that I get to do this, it’s just that I do more now.
"It's a whole new way of looking at things differently," he adds. "I’m appreciating that aspect of it more than I have in a decade. It’s fun again. It’s fun to play the new song and to see it resonate with people, and for them to get it. It’s an awesome feeling ... When the music is good, it is really, really a pleasant experience."
Hayes sums up his feelings every day with one word: grateful. After the roller coaster of emotions and physical toll his body has endured over the last few years, he says that he feels complete gratitude with everything he does.
"[I'm] trying my best to make the most of every day," Hayes concludes. "Trying to find a way to be happy and enjoy this life, this precious gift, and I've fortunately been given a second chance at it."