What I learned as a stage IV colorectal cancer survivor

My journey to MD Anderson began in
November 2012, when I came down with what I thought was a 24-hour
stomach flu. My doctor referred me to a gastrointestinal specialist,
who prescribed a probiotic.

When my upset stomach still hadn’t gone away a month later, he
scheduled a colonoscopy. That’s when he discovered a tumor in
my intestines so large that he couldn’t complete the procedure. A CT
scan confirmed the presence of a tumor in my colon, as well as lesions
on my liver. I had stage IV sigmoid adenocarcinoma – colorectal cancer.

I was devastated. I wondered how many days or weeks I had left. I
also worried about getting everything in order for my wife. But a
relative had been treated for cancer successfully at MD Anderson, so my family insisted that I
request an appointment there right away. I’m so glad I did.

Finding comfort in colorectal cancer treatment at MD Anderson

I was still struggling with my late-stage diagnosis when I met Miguel Rodriguez-Bigas, M.D., at MD Anderson. I told him I regretted not having
a colonoscopy earlier. He reassured me, saying, “We’re not here to
worry about the past. We’re going to work on improving your health now.”

I was concerned about travelling between Tucson, Arizona, and
Houston for treatments and wanted to continue working as long as I
could. My medical team worked together to make a treatment plan that
would best address my needs. Along the way, I had numerous CT scans,
MRIs, PET scans and other tests. Knowing that my care team was so
thorough was a real comfort to me.

‘Centers of excellence’ in both Texas and Arizona

Eventually, Dr. Rodriguez-Bigas surgically removed about eight
inches of my large intestine, and Thomas
Aloia, M.D.
removed several liver lesions. I also had a
follow-up procedure called a portal vein embolization to shrink the
part of my liver that still had lesions on it and force the other side
to grow larger. Then I had another surgery to remove 60% of the affected part of my liver.

Afterward, I received chemotherapy at Banner MD Anderson
Cancer Center
in Gilbert, Arizona, which is north of Tucson. My
care team in Houston worked with Tomislav Dragovich, M.D., at the Banner
location, which had just opened the previous September. 

This all worked out very well for me, as I discovered that MD Anderson is a center of excellence in both
Texas and Arizona. The physicians and staff genuinely care about
people. They have a system that works, and they give you hope. With
the exception of my immediate family, I have never felt so loved as I
did by the people of MD Anderson, ranging
from my doctors and nurse practitioners to the staff and
administrative assistants. All provided excellent care and guidance. 

My colorectal cancer treatment side effects

While my experience at MD Anderson was
exceptional, colorectal cancer treatment hasn’t been easy on me. My
eyesight is a little worse now, and I have minor ongoing neuropathy in
my feet and the tips of my fingers. I also lost about 25 pounds and
suffer from chemobrain.

Throughout this journey, the effects of cancer have been softened by
my faith, family, friends, former coworkers, therapy dog and even
prayers offered by complete strangers. Without all of this support, I
honestly don’t know how I would have made it this far.

My advice for other patients

Today, I advise others to seek the best care possible by going to
MD Anderson. And don’t be afraid to ask
“stupid” questions. All of my doctors drew pictures for me and
explained each procedure.

I also tell people to avoid negative articles and information about
their diagnosis or treatment that they might see on the internet. For
many cancers, the survival rate is much better and higher than it used
to be – especially if you’re getting treated at MD Anderson, which is making great advances in
treating cancer through research conducted in its labs.

Finally, I tell people to stay positive by surrounding themselves
with positive people. My mottos were “Trust in God” and “N.E.G.U.”
(Never Ever Give Up). Find your own way to keep moving forward. It’s
worth the effort.


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