Noel Clarke will turn 50 years old in 50 days, but he’s not counting on a calendar because, frankly, he does not know how many days remain.

He has served as the chief of the Moundsville Fire Department for the past 15 years, and Clarke continues in that position today despite his health issues over the last three years. His diagnosis, however, was not expected because the lifelong Marshall County resident merely requested a colonoscopy because of a family history with cancer.

“It was really weird how it was found because all I did in the beginning was go to the doctor because of pain in my left shoulder from an ATV accident,” Clarke explained. “When the appointment was over and the doctor was in the middle of scheduling my physical therapy, I just blurted out that I wanted a colonoscopy. He turned around and looked at me and said, ‘What’d you say?’ And I repeated it.

“He asked if I was symptomatic, if I was experiencing some issues that would lead me to believe something was wrong, and I told him I wasn’t, but that I just wanted to have it done,” he said. “And then in a few weeks I got a phone call about the appointment, and I went to have the test.”

Most people dread a colonoscopy test not only because of the nature of the procedure but also because of the preparation process they must endure during the 24 hours prior to the appointment. Clarke, an ever-positive person, did what he was instructed to do and did not mind the appointment until the very end.

“To be honest, when I had the colonoscopy, it actually was a nice little nap,” he said with a chuckle. “As I was walking out of the hospital and a nurse asked me where I was going, I told her I was going home and that I had the ride they told me to have for after the test. Well, then the nurse tells me that the doctor wanted to speak to me before I left, and I just thought he was going to make sure I was OK after the test.

“He sat me down in the exam room, and the first thing he said to me was, “You’re a mess.’ He explained they didn’t even need to test the tumor they found. The doctor told me that I definitely had cancer,” he continued. “That tumor was pretty big, and it’s one of those moments in your life when life gets real. That’s what happens when someone says the ‘C word’ to you. All I could do then is schedule the surgery and then plan for treatment following it.”

Clarke readily admits he is a fan of food and now plans to visit as many local eateries he can.

Bag of Marbles

On the day following his 50th birthday, July 31, Clarke will celebrate his 20th anniversary with the city of Moundsville, and prior to accepting the position with the municipality, he volunteered for several fire departments throughout Marshall County for a little more than a decade. Fighting fires has always in his blood, he insisted, and he enjoys serving the people who are his neighbors and his friends and family.

So, this is not the first time when Clarke has faced a life-or-death circumstance, but it’s definitely different because now it’s his life in the balance.

“And I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping ever since. I’ve received a lot of support, but there are still a lot of sleepless nights,” he reported. “Sleep is something that’s not really been possible because my mind has been racing ever since that colonoscopy appointment. If there’s someone out there experiencing what I am, my advice is to stay as active as they can. It helps. It’s helped me.

“It’s all about doing as much as you can while you can,” he continued. “That’s been my mindset ever since it sunk in that I had cancer, and it’s been that way after each one of those appointments. I’m just trying to take it all in while I can.”

Prior to his initial surgical procedure to remove the malignant tumor, he had a consultation with his surgeon, Dr. K. Steven Wiley. During that appointment Clarke had the chance to see something he’s never witnessed before.

His family and his friends have been by his side since Clarke first learned he was suffering from colon cancer.

“That’s because he allowed me to see the tumor, and it was ugly. First thing he said was, ‘That sure doesn’t belong there,’ and he was puzzled as to why I wasn’t symptomatic because of its size,” the firefighter explained. “I asked him, because of the size of it, how long he thought it might have been there, and he said it could have been there for years.

“That’s why I am preaching about screenings because colon cancer grows slowly in the beginning, and it can be erased if caught early enough,” he insisted. “So, who knows what may have happened if I would have had the colonoscopy earlier in my life? They say 50 years old is when you should start having them, but I was in my mid 40s and already had the tumor.”

Following his recovery from the surgery that removed 14 inches of his colon, Clarke believed his battle had been won.

It was not.

“The doctor said he was pretty confident that it was encapsulated, so I thought it would be snipped, and I’m done with cancer,” he said. “But it didn’t work out that way. It had got into the lymph nodes. I thought I was going to be good, but then I had to address it again.

“I’ve had three surgeries so far, and now this is the fourth time that the cancer has returned,” Clarke explained. “It has seemed like it’s been every six months. Then they found another spot on my liver even after I have had a liver resection, and they wanted to watch it for 90 days to see what would happen. When I just went back on May 31, it looked like someone had shot a bag of marbles into my liver. It was the most defining moment in my life. It really got real.”

A fan of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Clarke is hoping for a Stanley Cup repeat this Sunday evening.

“Slamming the Juice”

Jumping out of a perfectly operational airplane.

Riding his ATV, sitting around a campfire with his friends, and fishing along Fish Creek.

Taking a helicopter ride.

And eating at as many local restaurants as possible.

Those are the activities in which Noel Clarke wishes to participate.

Now.

While he can.

“The doctor has told me that I am incurable. Her words were, ‘I cannot cure you.’ She said we can work on management, but that there was too much there now. She did not say ‘terminal,’ but I still asked her if it was time for me to make a bucket list,” he said. “She did say that she has had patients that have managed it for a while, but she also said that sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

“So, now I have to see what happens as I begin a new round of management treatments. That’s all I can do, really,” Clarke said. “I have to make the best of it at this point. I have to get the word out; I know that. It’s day-to-day, and I am going to live each of those days; I’ll tell you that.”

Clarke is a fan of being outdoors during all four seasons of the year.

He will again begin “slamming the juice” next week when his chemotherapy treatments begin, and Clarke refers to the nurses at Wheeling Hospital’s Schiffler Cancer Center as, “his angels.” Although he’s not experienced a loss of appetite or exhaustion during his previous rounds of chemo, this fire chief doesn’t know what to expect this time.

“What I have been living through for the past three years has been horrible, and I don’t want others to experience this because it’s stopped everything in my life, and it’s something I want others to avoid. That’s why I have no problem now telling my story and telling them that I am incurable because I am trying to help the people in this area,” Clarke insisted. “I’m sharing my health issues because I want them to understand that this is real. This is not about something you see on TV when a doctor comes into a room and announces a miracle. I just want people to know they need to be aware of this.

“It’s not about me anymore. Instead, it’s about people getting checked and getting the care that they need,” he explained. “They have to take that step. They have to get tested, and then they need to do what they need to do to keep living. That’s why I am still fighting it every single day, and I will not give up.”

Clarke is spreading his message in every possible way he can think of, and he spent an hour this week on the Watchdog Network AM 1600 WKKX and AM 1370 WVLY doing so. He also spends time on Facebook so he can provide poignant posts he believes my drive another to make the call and keep the screening appointment.

His family and friends have planned a steak fry to benefit him, and it is set for June 24 inside the Chesapeake Building at the Marshall County Fairgrounds. The doors open at 5 p.m., and it’s a $25 donation for each person to attend, eat, enjoy a few beverages, and dance to the live entertainment.

“At this point, as far as what I’m going through, I plan to live as long as I am allowed to live, and now I’m just trying to get the word out there so people can go get checked,” Clarke said. “We also should support other people who are going through the treatments already because, trust me, you don’t want any part of what I’m experiencing. It’s just not about having cancer and going to get chemo because it changes your entire life.

“My life is upside-down, and it’s a struggle that I battle every day, but I try hard to be as normal as possible,” this brave man added. “I’m still me, but it never leaves my mind. Never. I don’t feel too bad, but I have cancer, and that’s something I’ve had to admit. And there, I just did again.”

(Photos provided by Moundsville Fire Chief Noel Clarke)



14 Responses

  1. Carolyn

    You have always been on outstanding representative of the Moundsville Fire Dept and now are also a great spokesperson for screenings of cancer . Thank you for all you do.. Prayers for your health.

    Reply
  2. Cliff Sligar

    Chief, You are one hell of a man. Thank you for bringing this out. You went through life helping others, thank you for your years of service. As they say in the fire service ” See you at the big one”

    Reply
  3. Theresa

    Thank you Noel for your article. You are one very brave man. Praying that the Lord will bless you & your family with much peace & love !!

    Reply
    • Vicki

      Noel
      I am sorry for all that you are going through but Thank you for staying positive and getting the word out because of you I will be calling Dr. Wiley’s office to schedule the appt. They have been calling me about. It’s that time the Dr said.not BC of issues but BC of the age but I’ve been procrastinating. Thank you for your guidance on this. stay strong and we love ya sweetie. We are all pulling for ya and Thank you for teaching us about living like it was our last day.

      Vicki

      Reply
  4. Carol Emery

    Noel I feel for you buddy when I was told to get a colonoscopy I told my doctor there was nothing wrong with my a– imagine my surprise at my prognosis I’m fighting that same battle right now I joke with my family doctor that she got me into this but I’m glad she talked me into it although I’m not happy with the prognosis I will keep fighting the battle prayers for you and I will keep praying for you

    Reply
  5. Hayley

    Thank you for sharing your incredibly personal story…. praying for you ❤️

    Reply
  6. Della

    Our prayers are with you Noel.
    Stay strong and keep fighting!
    Marshall County is with you.
    Thank you for your many years of service.

    Reply
  7. Shirley George

    reading your story brought back the day my husband found out he had rectal cancer. he had chemo and radiation before his surgery which shrunk the cancer and then Dr. k. Steven Wiley was able to get all of his cancer. that was 14 years ago and he is still cancer free. I only know you from the sale of our furniture but we think you are a wonderful person. God bless you and Jim and I wish you well.

    Reply
  8. Michelle wills

    Hi Noel, you are in my prayers and thoughts. You are a very special person.stay strong and live each day to the fullest. I really want to see you i am hoping i can get down there soon..take care and be safe you are strong enough you can bet this. Love ya

    Reply
  9. Lori C

    Love you my buddy, you are such an amazing man, I cannot put into words what a strong, positive and funny man you are. You are so inspiring and I pray that people heed your advice and get checked. I’m a huge advocate of mammograms for women and getting checked because my mom has had it twice & the only way it could have been detected was by a mammo. Preventative testing is the key to our lives and I say prayers for a miracle for you every day! You know I’m always here to talk to, whether it be to laugh, joke or cry.

    Reply
  10. Mary Lou

    Noel, your story was very touching and heartfelt. I had gone through chemo and radiation a few years ago. I am “cured,” they say, but you always have a thought in the back of your mind, what if it comes back? After reading everything you have gone through, and it was a lot more than me, I will try to think more positive about the things in my life and enjoy every minute I can. I will think about you and your family. You are certainly a HERO in my book! Take care Noel.

    Reply
  11. Kathy

    Oh Noel! That was so brace! Thank you for sharing your story. I am sure that you saved many lives in doing so! Always in my prayers!

    Reply
  12. Sheri

    God bless you and yes the whole crew at the cancer center are wonderful. I’m 10 yrs free from breast cancer. All my love and prayers to you and your family ❤️

    Reply
  13. Gary Church

    This is not a battle, this is a war against a disease which has no cure. I have seen it in my family and friends. It is so demoralizing as it takes away what was given to us by God. Fight the fight, walk the walk, and talk the talk. I am sending prayers Noel that you can win the war against this dreadful disease. It is unreal that no cure has been found, but I have my own beliefs on this matter. Say your prayers everyday and God will look over you. Wishing you and your family the very best in your coming days.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.