After Scott Wilson’s mother died of colon cancer at age 59, he knew he’d need to be diligent about his own health. That’s why he took the initiative to get his stool tested in his mid-40s. The results came back negative, but several years later, after a more intensive test, Wilson was told that he not only had colon cancer, but that it was stage IV. And he’d had the disease for half a decade.
By that time, the tumor had spread from the Greenwood Village resident’s colon to his liver, and multiplied into 10 different malignancies and lesions. “The diagnosis is the worst you’ll ever feel,” Wilson says. “It’s like your biggest fear has been realized: You’ve got cancer. Then determination and resolve kick in.”
In Wilson’s case, that’s an understatement. Since that day in 2016, the chief corporate affairs officer for Molson Coors Brewing Company has morphed into a prominent advocate for the screening and prevention of colon cancer, particularly in those under 50. (Historically, colon cancer has been a disease of age, but recent trends show a jump in the illness for younger populations.) Wilson, who was born in Scotland, sits on the Colorectal Cancer Alliance’s young onset advisory board and has worked with the American Cancer Society to give presentations to large Colorado companies about the benefits of colon cancer screening for both employers and employees.
The main vehicle for his work, though, isn’t a storied nonprofit or a series of speeches. It’s Through The Window: A Photographic Tale of Cancer Recovery, an 80-page coffee table book that chronicles Wilson’s attempt to stay positive throughout treatment by pursuing his passion of photography. Each image depicts an animal that is then matched with a word embodying his essential values during recovery. “Perseverance,” for instance, is paired with a shot of a trio of bison with the Denver skyline behind them—including the Transamerica building, where Wilson works, and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, where he was treated. “Determination” goes with a picture of a coyote, eyes fixed steadfastly on his prey.
It certainly took perseverance and determination for Wilson to even capture these photos. In the past, he’d focused on landscape photography (he’s been a finalist for the UK Landscape Photographer of the Year award four times), but one of his cancer medications made him so sensitive to light that he wasn’t able to walk outside in order to capture his typical shots of sunflower fields or star-speckled skies. So, instead, he purchased a long-range lens and shot wildlife from inside his car.
Between March and October of 2017, Wilson spent anywhere from 20 minutes to hours at a time mastering his new craft, primarily in Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge and Cherry Creek State Park. At one point, an American badger was nesting in Rocky Mountain Arsenal with four cubs, and Wilson sat there for almost six hours trying to snag the ideal shot. During those long stretches, he found that his Volvo XC90 provided a sanctuary for him to process the fact that he had cancer—and those thoughts led to the eventual book. “I would sit in the car and wait for the decisive moments, writing recollections for this book in between,” Wilson says. “The car became a photographic and a writing studio.”
Through The Window, which costs $35 with 100 percent of proceeds going to the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, has raised $40,000 so far. More than that, though, Wilson hopes the book acts as a vehicle to raise awareness about the importance of colonoscopies and the need for more research into the uptick of colorectal cancer for younger adults. (The American Cancer Society did recently lower the recommended age to begin colon cancer screenings from 50 to 45, but the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has continued to use 50 as its starting age for screenings of the disease.) Although Wilson celebrated one year of remission on Sunday, he’s still on medication and isn’t sure when that’ll cease completely. “There’s a phrase now which is ‘cancer for life,’” Wilson says. “It’s almost recognizing that we might just learn to treat and manage cancer rather than completely eliminate it, almost like diabetes.”
That’s a different perspective from the dedication at the front of the book, which reads “Dedicated to Joyce Wilson: The battle is over.” It’s a reference to Wilson’s mother, who not only died of cancer, but also lost her oldest son to the disease when he was two years old. “On her deathbed, she grabbed my hand and said, ‘I’m going tonight, take this down,’” Wilson says. “She said, ‘The battle is over. Rest in peace.’” Wilson cries quietly, the memory sharp, for a few minutes. She’d meant, he says, that she was finally going to join her firstborn.