By Bianca Kasawdish
“It’s amazing what you learn about yourself and life when you have no choice but to embrace it,” says Clarence Dass.
At just 31 years old, attorney Clarence Dass found he had a battle beyond the courtroom to fight. He found out on Holy Thursday in 2017, that he had stage 4 colon cancer.
Now founder of his own law firm, legal expert for WXYZ-TV and Adjunct Professor at Rochester College, Dass began to feel off at the beginning of 2017. He started having stomach aches that lasted for hours and even days. He lost his appetite, became very tired quickly and began losing weight, all with no explanation. And when he randomly experienced a very high fever one day, he knew something was wrong.
After seeing a gastroenterologist and then scheduling a colonoscopy, his doctor told him he found cancer when he woke from the anesthesia. This came with no history of colon cancer in his family, at the age of just 31 years old.
“At the time I learned the news, I had just left the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office. I had just launched my law firm only a few months prior, and I had just met the girl who is now my wife. In a matter of minutes, my entire life changed,” he says. “A few questions immediately came to mind. Would I lose my hair? Would I lose my strength? Would I be able to work? Would I make it?”
He began chemotherapy soon after his diagnosis, and did twelve rounds over the course of six months. Dass shares that he would go to the hospital to get chemo, go home for three days, and go to work. “While at the hospital, I would talk to clients, call courts, and do legal work. No one knew what was happening, but I was running my law firm from my hospital bed,” he says.
In his third week of chemo, the deportation crisis began. Hundreds of community members were caught in raids carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and detained. During this time, Dass went down to ICE headquarters to help his clients, who he learned had just been detained. He stayed with their families all night, and did an interview with Fox 2 News about the situation.
“There were times when I was doing live media interviews about the deportation crisis while connected to an IV,” he says. “I remember one day doing a live interview on The Mildred Gaddis Show from inside the bathroom at the hospital, and speaking with the Detroit Free Press every few days to provide an update, all while watching the chemo drip.”
The entire time, Dass kept his battle a secret from many. “I knew that if I shared this news, it would take away from the work I was trying to accomplish for my clients,” he explained. “I also knew that I loved practicing law and helping others. If I continued to do that, it would also help me keep fighting the cancer.”
Dass then began radiation every day, all the while he was planning his wedding to his wife, Renee. He shares that with each round, his side effects became worse, to the point where he couldn’t get out of bed some days, leave his room or even answer the phone. He began to look different, swollen, tired, and older – his hair even turned gray. “My life was becoming slower and slower as the world around me felt like it was getting faster and faster,” he says.
Steadfast in his fight, Dass kept going. Near the end of 2017, he learned it had all worked. The cancer had become smaller and smaller, and in January of 2018, he had surgery to remove what remained of it. By the end of the surgery, he learned he was cancer free.
“Suddenly, the things that mattered before don’t matter anymore. All that matters is whether you are able to wake up in the morning healthy and happy, and whether you can share that health and happiness with the people you love,” he says.
On advice for anyone else going through a similar situation, he says, “Each one of us has a cross to bear, the same way Jesus did. We will all suffer in some way throughout our life. But what matters is not how we are suffering, but rather how we view our suffering. Every experience in life is an opportunity to grow and help others. As bad as things seem at any particular moment, as long as we are alive, we have already won half the battle. Do not give up.”
Dass credits his family for the love and support they offered him day in and day out. “I want to thank my family, my dad, mom, two sisters, and my wife and her family for being by my side every step of the way— with everything from picking things up from my office for me or at other times just being there. They are my biggest blessings, and I would not be here without them.”