Singer’s Cancer Is a ‘Roller Coaster’

Toby Keith’s appearance shocked fans at the People’s Choice Country Awards September 28 in Nashville. The formerly burly “Red Solo Cup” singer’s 6-foot-4 frame, once clocking in at 235 pounds, looked gaunt, the result of his battle with stomach cancer, which he announced last June. “You get good days, and, you know, you’re up and down,” said the 62-year-old, who took home the Country Icon Award during the ceremony. “But I feel good today.”

The good days can be few and far between. “It’s always zero to 60 and 60 to zero,” the Oklahoma native has said of his illness. “It’s a roller coaster.” Throughout more than a year of treatment, including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, the country star has leaned on his family — wife Tricia Lucus and their three adult children — and looked to a higher power. “I lean on my faith, and I just pray and lean into it,” he’s said. “It was my rock.”

Finding Strength

Though frail, Toby took the stage at the inaugural People’s Choice event, singing “Don’t Let the Old Man In,” from the Clint Eastwood film The Mule. “I’ve been going through my cancer fight for the last couple of years, and it’s really inspiring for a lot of people,” he told NBC ahead of the ceremony. “And coming back on TV for the first time and performing live in front of a live audience, I thought it was fitting.”

In June, the Songwriters Hall of Famer shared a positive update, noting that his tumor had shrunk by one-third. “I’m about another eight weeks out from my last scan,” he told The Oklahoman. “So I expect next time I look for that tumor to be even less — and I’ve only got one that’s shown up. Basically, everything is in a real positive trend.” Still, the multiple treatments have been brutal for the “Oklahoma Breakdown” singer, who’s had 32 No. 1 singles and sold 40 million albums in his decades-long career. “There have been days when he can’t get out of bed, but he’s not feeling sorry for himself,” an insider tells Closer. “He’s doing the best he can and not giving up on life.”

At his low points he knows he can lean on his wife. “He has the unwavering support of Tricia,” says the insider. “That helps him to stay on track and keep moving forward.” The pair met at an Oklahoma nightclub in 1981. “I was 19 and he was 20,” Tricia recalled. “He was just one of those larger-than-life guys, full of confidence.” They wed in 1984 and he adopted her daughter, Shelley; Krystal and Stelen followed. Toby worked on the oil fields by day and performed with his bar band, Easy Money, at night. When finances got tight, he’d ask her to have faith. “He’d say, ‘Trish, one of these days, my time is coming,’” Trish recalled. “‘Hang in there.’”


Higher Power

She isn’t the only one who has faith. “I’m a follower of Christ, and I’m probably not the best example in the world,” the “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” singer once said, “but I believe in everything about him and a lot of my life is operated upon the grounds of prayer.” Now more than ever, says the insider. “Toby’s leaning on his faith to get through this. He prays a lot.” He’s also very much involved in his pediatric cancer charity, OK Kids Korral, which provides daytime and overnight lodging for children with cancer and their families. “It’s helped to put his own experience into perspective,” says the insider. “If these kids can stick it out and keep smiling, so can he.”

Contemplating his mortality has also changed Toby’s perspective. “He sees the world through a different lens,” says the insider. “He’s much more appreciative of what he’s got, but he’s not done living yet and he’s saying don’t count him out.”

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