Despite cancer, Clasby focuses on his blessings

By Vicki Hyatt | Mar 28, 2014
MedWest Haywood board chairman Frank Powers drops by Mark Clasby's home office to talk a little shop and drop off a care package.

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a story on Mark Clasby, the county’s economic development director, who has been on top of numerous details concerning the sale of MedWest, as well as other job responsibilities as he navigates the complications of a recent cancer diagnosis.

When Mark Clasby learned this month his renal cancer had returned, the thought that kept coming back to his mind was how blessed he was.

Blessed that the cancer had stayed away for 15 years, blessed that he was among friends when his leg broke because a tumor had grown through the bone, blessed because it hadn't spread to his brain, blessed because facing the demons of earlier cancer diagnoses had taught him how to live.

Even finding the source of a persistent cough back in December 1998 was “sort of a God thing,” Clasby said. “They did all kinds of tests and nothing showed up. Finally in July (1999) an ultrasound found this mass. It was so large it was pushing on my diaphragm causing me to cough. All the other tests had been focusing on my lungs.”

Since renal cancer doesn’t respond to chemotherapy,  Clasby opted for surgery and his doctors felt certain the grapefruit-sized tumor on his kidney hadn’t spread. Follow-up tests through the years seemed to confirm that conclusion — until recently when not only the tumor on his leg was found, but several other lesions and nodules as well.

Though Clasby endured a later bout with prostate cancer, his physicians concluded it is seeds from the much earlier, slow-growing renal cancer that are now present on his spine, rib cage and possibly in his lungs.

Clasby is a retired pilot and business executive who moved to Haywood in 1993 where he worked as chief executive of Cedar Hill Studio. His work turned to the public sector when he was chosen as the county’s economic development director in 2003.

Despite his need to limit hours at his county office and to use a walker or wheelchair until his leg heals, he spends many of his waking hours at his home office on conference calls or emails regarding the MedWest sale to Duke LifePoint, as well as an ongoing quest to help fund an environmental upgrade at Evergreen Packaging.

He has a positive attitude about his diagnosis, particularly since he has beat the disease not once, but twice.

“The first time you hear the ‘c’ word, it just puts you into a tailspin,” he said. “Then you go through all these tests, you don’t know what to expect and you have to figure out what course of action you’ll take, and there are a lot of choices.”

Clasby's first bout with cancer and his slow-paced recovery shook his life in an unexpected way. For the first time ever, he struggled with depression, and every pain, whether it was an old football injury or arthritis, brought a new fear.

"It plays mind games on you," he said. "I finally made a conscious decision that I could not live this way. I told myself, 'you have to get past this.' I was living in fear and I couldn't let that control me. That was huge and it helped me mentally move forward."

Clasby became a born-again Christian in 1990 after examining life experiences he said he could have done better. It was his strong faith that helped pull him through the ordeal.

"I had faith, but had gone through a divorce and was questioning some things," he said. "When I accepted the Lord, it closed a hole in my chest. When I was going through challenging times in 1999 and again in '09, I had my faith to rely on."

Even cancer didn't cause Clasby to question his faith.

"It was actually the reverse," he said. "There were so many people praying for my health in 1999. That kind of cancer has legs.They were praying it would be encapsulated and it was. They prayed God would give me the strength and courage to get through this fight, and He did. That's why I feel so blessed."

As he looks at all the experiences he's had since he first battled cancer, Clasby considers the time a blessing.

"I look at my career and the things I’ve collaborated on and it amazes me," he said, explaining that the slow-growing nature of the renal cancer seeds had offered a chance to pack a lot of living into a second career in Haywood County.

Even as he looks back on his current situation, he thanks God for being among friends when his leg broke, making him aware of the latest cancer threat, reasoning he could have fell at home where it might have taken hours, or even days, before he was found.

There was a fear the cancer could have metastasized to his brain, but he received word late last week that there was "nothing in my head that's not supposed to be there."

Before his broken femur was repaired, his surgeons understood the risk of kidney failure, something that occurred during his 2009 prostate cancer surgery and he took steps so that was avoided.

He's feeling positive about a scheduled visit to Duke University on April 10 where he will meet with a renowned physician specializing in renal carcinoma to learn about treatment options.

Though he faced excruciating pain after his femur bone broke, it is getting better and his doctor is pleased with the healing process. As he faces his third cancer experience, he said he is disappointed but not discouraged.

"I’ve beat it twice. I have great doctors, and we’ll beat it again," Clasby said. "Knowing you can beat it with medical help and support, I'm anxious to find out what our course of action will be and to get started on it."

Clasby said he is naturally a positive person, something he traces back to his parents and his upbringing. He's certain that he'll not have to face the demon of depression again.

"Things happen to all of us in life, good and bad," he said. "You run into people who have a negative outlook on life, and I will not waste my energy in that way. My work is not finished."