By Nancy Gay
As Gene Evans glides through the waters of Tampa Bay the smell of salt tickles his nose, he feels the warmth of the sun on his face and the sound of his paddle hitting the water is music to his ears. Though Evans is an avid paddle boarder who has navigated these waters thousands of times, he doesn’t take any of this for granted because a paddle board excursion in 2009 changed his life forever. It was atop of his beloved 14-foot paddle board that he began experiencing dull back pain, which eventually became so severe it warranted a trip to the emergency room.
On the outside, 48-year-old Evans was the picture of perfect health. He worked out religiously, ate right and generally took good care of himself. But on the inside, things were different. The back pain Evans thought might be kidney stones turned out to be stage 4 kidney cancer that spread to his vertebrae. All of a sudden the man who cycles, runs and lifts weight in addition to paddling was dealing with the possibility of not seeing his 50th birthday.
During his first surgery at Moffitt Cancer Center, doctors had to remove his rib and collapse a lung to stabilize his spine by installing a titanium cage. Six weeks later they removed his kidney and tumor on his spine. He endured multiple operations and treatments over the next 18 months, but he was determined to remain positive. Evans is a certified International Sports Sciences Association trainer and even led himself through physical therapy to recuperate after each surgery.
His dedication and determination paid off. In early 2011, doctors declared Evans cancer-free. To give back, he created Paddle Against Cancer, a 1, 3 or 7 mile paddle through the waters of Treasure Island to raise money for Moffitt. Over the past eight years, he has raised nearly $300,000 by combining his love of paddling with his determination to beat cancer.
Gene says, “I am committed to make each day count and to live each day with purpose. In honor of my nine-year anniversary as a survivor, I will be doing a paddle to celebrate all survivors and those who contribute to giving us that special second chance.“
Now, he’s hitting the water once again and is asking for the community to join him. To celebrate his 9th anniversary as a cancer survivor, he is planning a 16-mile paddle beginning at 9 a.m. on Friday, July 13 from the Salt Cracker Fish Camp in Clearwater to the Hooters at Johns Pass, where the celebration will continue. Ron Diaz and Jay Recher from 620 WDAE will broadcast live from Hooters from 12-3 p.m. A new SurfTech Paddleboard will be up for grabs and Paddle Against Cancer merchandise will be for sale. Plus, Evans will sign copies of his book “Die Living or Live Dying: The Choice is Yours.” All proceeds will go to Moffitt.
When Evans was first diagnosed with cancer, his chances of surviving five years were less than 10 percent. He credits Moffitt, being in good shape and a positive mental outlook for helping him beat this disease.