“If I say I’m going to do something, I do it,” he said.
Three promises he’s made in his life are especially important to him.
The first was to his father who was battling the late stages of cancer. He promised that he would take care of his mother. The second was to his then 10 year old son, Dane, in 2004. Stewart was battling his own cancer and was feeling defeated by the illness as well as life in general. He had always been an avid outdoorsman and often ran to stay in shape, but took up cycling when he was diagnosed. He let cancer take that away for a while.
Dane asked him one day when he was going to start riding his bike again. That very day, Stewart got his bike down, dusted off the cobwebs, and got ready to ride again. “I think God was at work that day telling me it was time to get back on the bike,” Stewart said.
A third promise was to a friend and author who felt that Stewart had a story to tell and that it should be shared with others. The friend encouraged him to publish a book that he had worked on years earlier.
Stewart told him he would get it published by the end of 2013. And he did.
“Dying Was Not On My Agenda” came out in December. Its pages are filled with Stewart’s struggle with colon cancer and how he managed to get to where he is now.
“It sat on my computer for about nine or 10 years,” he said. “It started out as a book for Dane. My friend said it needed to be published, that people would want to read it. I committed to him to do it.”
Stewart will have a book signing from 6-8 p.m. Friday, January 10, at Java Jolt on the square in Jacksonville.
“Dying Was Not On My Agenda” can be purchased at Jacksonville Book Store, or online at Books-a-Million, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon. Books will also be available for purchase at the book signing.
Stewart was born in Piedmont. His parents are LaVerne Amos Stewart and the late Ray Stewart. His brother, Scott, who is almost four years older, lives in Spring Garden.
Stewart attended Piedmont High School, Gadsden State Community College and Jacksonville State University.
He was a computer specialist at Anniston Army Depot for 13 years, before going to work for the Department of Justice in Birmingham where he is the systems manager. He is responsible for overseeing all information technology for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Alabama.
He likes what he does because he likes challenges, perhaps so, because that’s what his life has been for a little more than a decade.
Stewart was familiar with cancer. It ran in his family. He lost his father, his uncle Chuck Stewart, and his cousin Jan Stewart Williams, who was Chuck’s daughter, to the disease – all within two years of his own diagnosis.
“I knew I had a very strong predisposition for cancer,” said Stewart. “The cancer my dad, Uncle Chuck, and I had was hereditary. Jan’s wasn’t. It was in her cervix. She was in her early 40s and only lived a month or two. For a while there, it was just one shock after another.”
Stewart thought that since his father had colon cancer that he should be checked for it. The doctor said it wasn’t necessary because he was so young and not having any problems. Stewart was 36 at the time and had already lost his father.
A couple of years later, when he was 38, he began having problems, went back to the doctor and insisted that tests be performed. That’s when they found the cancer in his colon. It was Stage III. The surgery was successful, but like many other cancer patients he underwent chemotherapy and radiation. He was told he’d need to pass the five year mark to be cancer free. He didn’t have to wait that long. Two years later he learned that the cancer had metastasized to his liver.
He went back on chemotherapy and later into another surgery. Doctors took out the entire left lobe of his liver. That was 10 years ago.
“I had to start the clock back over,” said Stewart. “Because when you have a recurrence, you have to start over. I really wasn’t considered cancer free until 2008.”
Stewart said life is good today.
“I feel better than I did when I was diagnosed,” he said. “I feel better physically, emotionally and mentally than I did. I’d probably had cancer for a year or two before they found it. I felt sluggish and tired, but I attributed it to how you’re supposed to feel when you’re 37 or 38.”
Stewart said having a positive attitude helps him tremendously, as does all the outdoor things he’s always enjoyed. Another thing is having Dane by his side.
“We’re very tight,” said Stewart. “I don’t know of another father/son relationship that’s as close as ours.”
Dane is a sophomore at Jacksonville State University studying business management. He works at UPS.
Dane has three step-brothers and a step-sister. Dexter Vernon is also a sophomore at JSU. He officiates at sporting events. Tucker Vernon, 16, and Riley Vernon, 14, attend Pleasant Valley High School. Lily Grace Vernon, 11, attends Kitty Stone Elementary School.
Stewart has been married to their mother, the former Brigett Coggins, for almost two years. Brigett has been an elementary school teacher for the past 10 years and is now the digital instructional specialist for Jacksonville City Schools.
Stewart said he and Brigett have gotten used to all the commotion in their house. Five children and four inside dogs don’t allow for much quietness.
“There’s never a dull moment,” he said. “There’s so much coming and going. Most of the time, the kids have a friend over, so there’s any number of people in our house at one time. That’s the kind of household we want though. We want them to have their friends over and hang out at our house.”
Now, when he goes on his outdoor adventures, he’s accompanied by an army of six.
“We’re all very outdoor centered,” said Stewart. “We like anything outdoors like camping, kayaking, hiking, and cycling. We also like to travel. We’ve traveled together a lot in the short time we’ve been married.”
Stewart has taken up something he’d put aside for a long time -- drawing. As a Christmas gift to his father-in-law, Roger Coggins, he drew a picture of Paul “Bear” Bryant.
“I just felt like it was a talent God gave me, and I haven’t been using it like I should,” he said.
Contact Margaret at firstname.lastname@example.org.