Maybe what’s most amazing about Darrin Canfield’s fight and recovery from cancer is what he’s not done.
Rather than withdrawing, Canfield has remained engaged, connected to the community.
Under the Friday night lights, Canfield is on the sidelines of another Centralia High School football game, coordinating the video coverage.
“I can’t serve and do for others sitting at home and moaning,” said Canfield, a math teacher at Centralia High School who has been involved with coaching over the years. “I need to be out – active and involved. I don’t even think about it. I want to be out and to be teaching kids because I can.”
In December 2009, Canfield, feeling tired and worn down from what he thought was the flu, went to the doctor for a checkup. For nearly the next year, he was treated for acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) in Seattle and locally through Providence Regional Cancer Center. Today, nearly eight years after his chemo and laser treatments began, Canfield is still recovering. A bone-morrow transplant and follow-up medication weakened him. He still can’t stand for long periods.
“He’s amazing,” said Jeremy Thibault, Centralia’s head football coach. “He does have his limitations, but he’s around. He wants to be. He does what he can.”
Because of his weakened condition, Canfield can’t coach. But he’s helping with the sideline videos during games, often sitting on a stool. For upcoming opponents, he puts together a breakdown of the team’s offense, highlighting strengths and weaknesses. During the Centralia’s girls basketball season, he’s at the games taking stats.
“Canfield is always getting on us to do better,” said Kolby Baird, the Tigers’ starting quarterback. “He loves being involved. He has a great mindset and trying to help no matter what. He’s always got the best positive attitude about everything. I think him going through cancer and being able to do it with us is a great thing.”
With Canfield’s weakened state – he still walks with a shuffle – no one would have blamed him for sitting back, just checking out. “I think it’s impressive,” Baird said. “He still helps with the football team. He’s always involved. He just has that attitude about everything.”
By staying connected, there’s a reward for Canfield. “Being actively involved in the community is just about having the ability to be there,” Canfield said. “Just being there shows that no matter what’s put before you in your life you can be resilient. You can move past that. I always work my hardest and strive to be the best I can be. I’ve always just strived and expected more from myself.”
Canfield’s inner strength to move forward comes from his faith. When he was in the hospital taking chemo treatments, he read through the Bible, growing in his Christian faith. The verse Philippians 1:21 – “For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” – had a special message.
“I came to a verse that I had read many times, but it didn’t mean anything to me before,” Canfield said. “For me at that point, Paul was writing that letter about being in prison. He may die being in prison. But he knew that he was going to continue on and that there was more for him to do. When I got that message, I felt that my path was set and I knew that there were going to be trials.”
Another helpful and encouraging voice in Canfield’s fight against cancer has been his wife, Tracy. He said she’s been his pick-me-up.
“Behind every man is a great woman,” Canfield said. “And every person who goes through leukemia must have a caregiver and that was my wife Tracy.” On September 26, 2017, the couple celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.
There were no guarantees about a successful recovery for Canfield. Survival rate from AML is about 50 percent. Canfield’s doctors have told him they’re amazed at what he’s done after what he’s gone through.
“For me, it’s because of who I am. It’s because I love teaching,” Canfield said. “I want to try to communicate by being around kids and trying to steer them.”
Teachers, Canfield said, have to become role models to guide and help students through. At Gather Church, where Canfield attends, he has been a mentor. People who have struggled with drugs or are homeless come to Gather Church. Canfield has tutored six people taking math at Centralia College.
If Canfield were to sit back, he said he’d be the example of a sit back guy. He wants to be an example of the let’s go guy.
“There are times I know when to take rest,” Canfield said. “I need to push through, but there are still things I have to be cautious about. When kids are sick, I still have an immune system that’s not that strong. I need to be aware of that. It’s better I don’t interact. I take the time to try to rest.”
Thibault has known Canfield for 23 years. Canfield was his high school math teacher and they’ve worked together coaching football at Centralia. When Canfield was shaking in reaction to undergoing treatments for cancer, Thibault sat with him in the hospital, leaving a lasting impression.
“He had a violently reaction. He was shaking,” Thibault said. “I said you want me to leave. He said, no this is normal. He got through the whole episode. He forced down some more food. All he’d want to talk about was other people. He would not dwell on it. I thought that was pretty unique.”
And Canfield continues to inspire by doing what he can. “He’s not a complainer,” Thibault said. Besides being a cancer survivor, he’s a doer.
“Yeah, it is a never give up,” Canfield said. “The word perseverance is an important word there. It’s a Biblical concept – persevering and fighting to the end. It’s also an everyday life thing.”