Colt Ford Is Back After Eye Cancer Diagnosis and Surgery: 'I Remember Them Saying "This Ain't Good"'

Colt Ford hadn't even noticed the spot on his eye until his friend pointed it out to him back in March. And he wasn't too worried when he sent a picture of that spot to an optometrist friend of his, who prescribed him eye drops. But two weeks later, when that spot on his eye was not only still there but getting bigger, the country rap powerhouse got downright scared.

"I went to a doctor in Georgia that specialized in cataracts and all that stuff, and I remember them saying, 'This ain't good' and 'You gotta get this out,'" recalls Ford, 51. "They wanted me to go see a cornea specialist, Dr. Uyen Tran, in Nashville, and that's when I started getting really nervous."

And he had every right to be, because it turned out to be cancer.

"The doctor told me I was a week to 10 days from having to go on full chemo," the Georgia native tells PEOPLE in a recent interview about the cancer diagnosis he shared with fans back in April shortly after eye surgery.

Of course, in true Colt Ford fashion, the singer-songwriter had the surgery on a Tuesday and was back out playing his rambunctious brand of country music by Friday.

"I had so many friends asking, 'Why didn't you tell me?'" remembers Ford, who is now treating his condition with chemo drops in the eye that "they will really need to watch" going forward. "But I just thought everyone was dealing with so much stuff and stress ... I didn't want to put that burden on anyone else. But it did feel good to have so many people reach out to me. It reminded me that it's not always about the music. They actually care about me — the person."

Nevertheless, Ford — who broke onto the country music scene back in 2008 with his collaboration with Brantley Gilbert on "Dirt Road Anthem" — admits that the diagnosis has changed the way he looks at life at the moment.

"I thought to myself … all the dumb s— I have done, I could have killed myself multiple times and this is what is going to take me out?" Ford says with a laugh. "I know darn well that God never puts anything on you that you can't handle, but the Lord might have a lot more confidence in me than I thought."

Indeed, the past year has been a somewhat rough one for Ford, who says he's had to take antidepressants during a good portion of the pandemic.

"I'm a happy guy and I love being with people and playing my music for people, so lockdown was just brutal for me," he explains. "I did what I could to pay my band and such, but it just hurt me that I couldn't do more."

Jeff Fasano Colt Ford

But today, with the cancer surgery behind him and shows out in front of him, Ford seems poised to grab the reins of country music yet again, most notably via his rocker of a new single "When Country Comes Back."

"This song was written and cut before the pandemic even happened," Ford states of the Monty Criswell, Derek George, and Taylor Phillips penned song, whose boot-stomping music video premieres exclusively on PEOPLE. "So, it really had nothing to do with the pandemic, but now, it has this double entendre sort of meaning."

Ford has now returned to touring on his 41-date "When Country Comes Back" tour, and it is this return to the spotlight that Ford plans to relish in moving forward within an industry that once had their doubts about if he fit in.

"Heck I sound like Merle Haggard now," he laughs as he considers the current state of country music. "The fact is, there is room for all of us. When I talk to younger artists now, I'm always sure to tell them not to get caught up in some of this stuff that can hurt you. Some of the things you think are important don't mean a damn thing. This could all go away very quickly. Enjoy every moment."