Overcoming colorectal cancer in my 20s

When I proposed to my girlfriend, Sarah, in September 2013, I thought
that would be the biggest moment of my year. Little did I know that
just a few months later, at the age of 24, I would be diagnosed with
stage III colorectal cancer.

My diagnosis came after I’d started to notice a pain in my back. I
thought it was just kidney stones, but doctors found a mass in my
abdomen during a wellness exam. An ultrasound and a CT scan revealed a
racquetball-sized tumor in my colon. Not wanting to take any chances,
I came to MD Anderson and had a colonoscopy with Patrick Lynch, M.D.

I anxiously waited and prayed for results, so when I got the phone
call confirming my diagnosis, I was scared but relieved. I knew my
faith in God would keep me going.

Because I have no family history of cancer, colorectal cancer at my
age was quite surprising. However, Dr. Lynch ran genetic tests that
showed I have Lynch Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that
made me more susceptible to getting colorectal cancer and that was
actually discovered by Dr. Lynch’s father.

My initial colorectal cancer treatment

In December 2013, I started treatment at MD
. I endured six rounds of a chemotherapy cocktail
called FOLFOX-6, which stole my energy and my appetite, and caused
neuropathy in my fingers and toes.

On Good Friday of 2014, I visited a local emergency room for severe
internal bleeding. The doctors got me stabilized so that I could
return to MD Anderson for an emergency
embolization procedure to stop the bleeding.

A few weeks after I’d recovered, Miguel Rodriguez-Bigas, M.D., performed an
8.5-hour surgery to remove the tumor. I felt very comfortable in his
care and knew that I was in good hands.

The surgery removed about 40% of my colon, as well as 20% of my
right kidney and more than 30 lymph nodes. I also had intraoperative
radiation therapy. Fortunately, I didn’t need an ileostomy, a surgical
opening created in the abdomen wall to remove bodily waste. I’ve
learned to find small silver linings in experiences like this.

After recovering, I had six more rounds of chemotherapy. It felt so
good to ring the bell at MD Anderson to
mark the end of my treatment in September 2014.

A colorectal cancer recurrence

Following my treatment, I moved on to planning my wedding, but
cancer had other plans. A checkup revealed two enlarged, cancerous
lymph nodes near my spine. We decided to try another six rounds of
chemotherapy with a drug called irinotecan. This time I lost all my
hair, and I was constantly exhausted and nauseous.

When scans showed that the chemo wasn’t helping and I wound up in
the ER with a swollen tongue and disorientation, my doctors took me
off irinotecan.

Choosing an immunotherapy clinical trial

At that point, my oncologist, Michael Overman, M.D., recommended an immunotherapy clinical trial he was leading. I decided to give
it a try.

I started taking nivolumab in March 2015, and I’ve had nothing but
positive results. My lymph nodes have returned to normal sizes, and
I’ve got my energy and appetite back. I’ve had no significant side
effects, and everything else has more or less turned around for me.

Finding strength and encouragement through others

I married Sarah on Nov. 28, 2015, seven years after I first asked
her out. I’m so glad that she has been with me throughout this
rollercoaster ride. She’s been my rock since my diagnosis.

During my journey, I’ve learned the importance of seeking
encouragement from others battling colorectal cancer. I became an
active participant in a Facebook support group, which was a great
source of inspiration and strength.

I’ve also been participating in the annual SCOPE 5K at MD
since 2014. My first year, I had to do the run in a
wheelchair because I was weak from chemotherapy, but I got up to walk
across the finish line. My family and friends have been by my side
every year, with a team we call “Boom Shaka Team Tydlacka.”

Most importantly, I received strength and courage from God. My faith
has helped to keep my spirits strong, despite everything, and I know
that I wouldn’t be here without Him.

When you face off against cancer, you learn to live life one day at
a time and enjoy the little things. Most importantly, you learn to
never give up.

Thomas Tydlacka will be honored at the 12th annual
SCOPE 5K run, which will be held at MD Anderson on Saturday, March
25, 2017. The race promotes colorectal cancer screening and honors
those diagnosed with the disease. 

Learn more

Request an
appointment at MD Anderson
or by calling 1-877-632-6789.