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Bend cancer survivor pays it forward

By Kandra Kent
Published On: Nov 19 2012 09:35:27 PM CST

St. Charles' Cancer Center pairs survivors with patients. NewsChannel 21's Kandra Kent met with one pair to hear their story.

BEND, Ore. -

Ken Callaway knows what what it's like to not be able to taste food, to be sick, to lose hair.

Callaway is now cancer-free, but he still remembers the day four years ago when doctors found a five centimeter tumor on the back of his tongue.

He had squamous cell carcinoma.

Now, Callaway is helping a fellow St. Charles Medical Center-Bend patient survive the very nightmare he went through.

"Tom's one of the best mentors I've done, because I went over to his house and sat down and talked with him for almost two hours," Callaway said. "And I was happy to do it."

Tom Swain was at the beach when he noticed a lump of his throat. Doctors were confident it was a harmless cyst -- but a CAT scan proved otherwise.

"Well, I looked over at my wife, and I could see tears coming down her cheeks, and it was not expected," Swain said.  "It was a bit of a shock, to say the least."  

Callaway and Swain  were strangers, until the fate of sharing the same cancer brought them together.

Callaway is a cancer advocate with St. Charles' Cancer Center; a survivor who mentors cancer patients.

Swain was diagnosed with his cancer last May, and has turned to Callaway every step of the way.

"I couldn't wait to meet Ken, because I wanted answers," Swain said.

They were answers doctors could provide from a clinical prospective. But hearing it from someone who'd been there made all the difference.

"It would be real nice to talk to someone who had a similar cancer," Swain said. "How am I going to feel? What kind of side effects am I going to have?"

The two were paired up in June and, and haven't stopped talking since,  on the phone and meeting for coffee.

Callaway has even sat with Swain during some of his chemo infusions.

"I'm kind of at this point in my life just trying to help out and do my part," Callaway said. "The survival rate is so high, people need support. They need somebody to talk to."

"One of the things that Ken said consistently is that 'you will get through this,'" Swain said. "And it's encouraging, and it makes a big difference. 'Yeah you're going to feel like....you're going to be miserable , but it will pass.' And that -- that's big."

Callaway has not only encouraged Swain when he's been at his worst, but inspires him to some day become a mentor himself.

"If and when my wife Fran and I become cancer advocates, maybe I can get some pointers from Ken," Swain said.

Paying it forward once again, to someone in the toughest of times.

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