Sublett writes book detailing cancer battle

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By Zac Oakes


Don Sublett never imagined that he would one day become a published author.

But the journey that began in 2006 for the U.S. Air Force veteran led him down a path that he will never forget, with highs, lows, and everything in between.

Sublett is a Campbellsville native, a graduate of the Campbellsville High School Class of 1965. After graduating high school, Sublett spent a year at Campbellsville College before flunking out and then joining the military shortly thereafter.

“I went to church one Sunday and a buddy of mine there said that he was going to join the Air Force,” Sublett said. “And I told him ‘I’ll go with you.’ So I did, and he made a career out of it, and so did I.”

Sublett’s career in the Air Force spanned around 30 years before he retired, attaining the rank of major.

His last stop while on active duty was in Florida, and he stayed there when he retired.

But even with an extensive military background, Sublett was not prepared for the next battle that awaited him, one that would threaten his life.

It started one morning around Christmas, according to Sublett.

“I woke up one morning and I had a sore spot on my neck,” Sublett said. “I got to feeling around and I felt a knot. I just thought it was a swollen lymph node.”

Sublett decided to visit a doctor, and the news was shocking. The knot he felt that morning was a cancerous tumor, but not just any tumor. This tumor had already advanced to stage four, the final stage of cancer growth, and it had spread to both sides of his neck. The primary tumor was in the base of his tongue, making it hard to recognize. It is called Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and is a relatively rare form of cancer.

The diagnosis was even more surprising as Sublett considered himself to be very healthy prior to the diagnosis. He said he regularly ran 3-4 miles, enjoyed spending time playing racquetball, and generally being active. He never even experienced the slightest symptom that there was a major tumor forming in his neck.

“That rocked me to my core, because that was the last thing I would’ve thought,” he said.

Sublett said he didn’t know much about the stages of cancer at the time, and when he was told it was stage 4, he wasn’t aware that stage 4 is the final stage.

“I thought there must have been a stage 5 because I didn’t feel bad,” Sublett said. “But by the time I realized that there wasn’t a stage 5, I already had my mind set that I was going to beat this thing.”

What followed included dozens of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. As any cancer patient knows, the treatments are grueling and take an extensive toll on the human body. As a way of dealing with the treatments and overall recovery process, Sublett sent email updates to a few family members and friends to keep them posted on how things were going.

Soon after, the secretary at his church began receiving the emails and then distributing them to church members. It grew to a point that around 250 or so people were reading Sublett’s regular recovery updates by the time he was finishing treatments.

“I never set out to write a book,” Sublett said. “I was just keeping people updated with how things were going… I did have a few people tell me that they thought I had a great story and that I should write a book, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time. I was just trying to beat the cancer.”

And beat the cancer he did. Sublett finished treatments, and five years later decided to re-evaluate the idea of writing a book.

He went back through those emails, the same ones that he wrote long ago that painted the picture of a man going through the good days, the bad days, and the so-so days, that made others laugh, cry, and smile, and decided to compile the seven months worth of emails into a book.

“Looking at it, it’s like a rollercoaster,” Sublett said. “You have those high moments where everything is going great, and then there are low moments where you’re wondering if you are going to make it, and then there are the in-betweens.”

So he compiled the emails and sent them to an editor to be edited and proofread. Once he got the transcript back, Sublett decided he wasn’t interested in pursuing the book anymore at that time.

“He bled all over it,” Sublett said, referencing the number of marks that the editor had placed on the transcript.

So he placed the transcript in a drawer, thinking he would come back to it another time. Five years later, he decided to give it another try as he approached 10 years of being cancer-free.

“I pulled it out of the drawer and finished it up, resent it, and then I self-published on Amazon,” Sublett said. With that, “Head and Neck Cancer Kills… Fight’s On!” was made public.

Since the book became available on Amazon, and also in a paperback form through Christian Faith Publishing, Sublett said reading the reviews that people have left for his book have been incredible. He said he is very happy that of the 40 reviews of the book on Amazon, 39 earned a 5-star rating (the highest possible rating), and the remaining review was a 4-star review.

For Sublett, compiling the emails into a collection for a book served a two-fold purpose: to show people the power of prayer — something that Sublett said he heavily relied on throughout his battle with cancer — and to bring awareness to head and neck cancers, which are difficult to detect and are often not noticed until they are in advanced stages (stages 3 and 4), which means that the survival rate is often significantly lower.

“Truthfully, that [prayer] is why I came through this as well as I did,” Sublett said, adding that his doctors told him that he was considered an “anomaly” due to how extensive and debilitating the surgeries for cancers such as the one he had can be.

In one particular instance, an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) doctor Sublett was seeing during his treatment told him that she could not see any of the typical signs of radiation, such as red, flaky skin or burns at the port sites.

“She told me that she wondered where the radiation was going,” Sublett said.

As for bringing awareness, Sublett said head and neck cancers often do not get the attention they deserve, and he hopes his book brings more attention to these forms of cancer. He also hopes the book will encourage people to pay more attention to their bodies, and especially any changes that occur in the body and to seek medical advice when something feels different.

Through it all, Sublett has gained a new appreciation for life. One of his favorite phrases now is “every day is a genuine blessing.”

When he reflects on his overall experience, Sublett said he credits three things: “good doctors, good medicine, and the Good Lord. Not necessarily in that order.”

Sublett’s book can be found on Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and through the iBooks app, as well as traditional brick and mortar stores.