Published on September 12, 2022

Cancer survivor Josh Canty urges others to seek medical help for unexpected health changes

Cancer survivor Josh Canty of AugustaJosh Canty never expected to be diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer in September 2019.

Not as a 35-year-old man in good health who hadn’t been to a hospital in decades. And certainly not as someone without signs of anything wrong – until he passed a large amount of blood while going to the bathroom.

An Augusta resident who uses humor to deflect the serious nature of his diagnosis and the extensive treatment that followed, Josh likened the episode to the hallway scene in the movie ‘The Shining.’

Given his age – typically much younger than someone with that type of cancer – the medical staff who treated him thought hemorrhoids may be causing the bleeding. When it happened again shortly after, a scheduled colonoscopy discovered a large rectal mass that proved to be cancerous.

Along with 25 rounds of radiation therapy at MaineGeneral’s Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care (HACCC), Josh started oral chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before it was removed at the Alfond Center for Health (ACH) by surgeon Dr. Sam Pakraftar, who also put in a colostomy and removed his appendix and a benign tumor that was found on his bladder. Fortunately no lymph nodes were affected.

“It was good to do it all at once but it made my recovery much harsher. It was a feat to just walk around, let alone get some sleep or take a shower,” he said.

Following his intensive surgery and recovery, Josh began intravenous chemotherapy sessions at the cancer center. While there were many challenging parts of his treatment plan, he said his radiation therapy treatments were the most difficult.

The importance of support

One of two cancer survivors who will be marshals and featured speakers at the 2022 MaineGeneral Day of Hope Oct. 1 at the Augusta Civic Center, Josh said the honor will allow him to share his story, to encourage others to seek medical care when things “don’t seem right” and to praise the HACCC staff who hold such an important place in his life.

“The center has been like the television show Cheers, ‘where everybody knows your name.’ When I go in and hear, ‘Oh hey, Josh!’ it makes me feel a lot better,” he said. “My experiences both there and at the ACH have been great.”

Josh said both experiences validated his decision to have his care provided locally.

“When you get a diagnosis like mine, everyone wants you to go to Dana-Farber or to get a second opinion elsewhere. I didn’t want any of that,” he said. “I figured Dr. Pakraftar already had his team and was working closely with my cancer doctor, Dr. Sneha Purvey, and others at the center. Theirs’ was one opinion and mine was the second. That’s all I needed.”

In addition to what he received from the HACCC staff, Josh also had tremendous support from his wife Marnelly, his family and friends and his boss and colleagues at Maine IT, which provides information technology support for the state government’s executive branch.

“They helped me through this ordeal, offering unconditional support and love. They’ve seen me at my worst and best moments, let me vent and breathe and smile again. They’ve shared disappointment and happiness, despair and hope, and setbacks and progress,” he said. “Having some type of social support is one of the most important things.”

Embracing an advocate’s role

In his life before cancer, Josh could not have envisioned himself as an advocate for others to seek medical care for unusual health changes. He hopes it will encourage them to get help early, when conditions are more easily treated.

“Everyone should check in with their bodies because protocol and doctors might not catch cancer in time,” he said. “A digital rectal exam wasn’t enough to detect my cancer. Had I not insisted on getting a colonoscopy, I might not be here today.”
“Speaking as a marshal is a great opportunity to get people to share their stories with loved ones or with a support group, and to know they’re not alone even when it feels like that sometimes,” he added.

Josh also encourages those just starting a cancer journey to give the disease a place in their lives without letting it fully define them.

“Talking about cancer really helps. I’ve found that not talking about it puts it on a pedestal when, while it’s really terrible, it’s not everything. I make space for it in my life, which makes it smaller,” he said. “Focusing on ‘quality of life’ also helps me realize I’m not aiming for the same quality of life as before – it’s different now, and better in some ways because I wasn’t focused on it before.”

“Cancer is negative and I can never turn it into something positive, but the whole journey has had positive moments,” he said. “That’s worth talking about and helping others deal with it is a very good thing.”

Paying it back

In 2021, when the Day of Hope was still a virtual event due to COVID-19 restrictions, Josh raised more than $500 to benefit those who receive treatment at the HACCC. This year, he has exceeded his $1,000 goal and plans to raise more money in the weeks remaining before the event.

“Every dollar raised will positively impact the care the center can give. Having cancer can be such a dreadful experience, so it’s nice to have a place where you feel taken care of, appreciated and understood – and where you can see you’re not the only one going through this,” he said.

“I’m so grateful for having the HACCC and its kind and understanding staff. Even though I had many times when I felt terrified or sad or ashamed, they allowed me to feel hope. It’s for this reason I’m happy to participate in the Day of Hope, to support the center that supported me.”

To learn more about the Day of Hope or to register for the event, visit For information about MaineGeneral’s cancer care program, visit