I’m a professional martial artist, so I’m very aware of my body and live a healthy lifestyle. That’s why it took me by surprise when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in November 2018. I was only 42.
But I believe that showing up is half the battle. So, I made a decision the second I found out. I remember thinking, “OK, I can beat this. It’s not taking me out. Enemy, be gone. Let’s do this.”
As a teacher, I felt like I had to be there for my students. Because at its core, martial arts is not about fighting. It’s about sticking to a discipline and not giving up.
I’m not saying I never felt afraid. I did sometimes. I just tried to turn it into fuel. And working with my doctors was not unlike me working with my students. We developed a treatment plan, and then we executed the plan. All I had to do was show up.
My colorectal cancer symptoms and diagnosis
Looking back, maybe my colorectal cancer diagnosis shouldn’t have come as such a surprise. I’d actually been seeing blood in my stool occasionally for about three years. I wasn’t worried, though, because it always seemed to appear right after a night out drinking.
My doctor said it could be caused by anything, and I was still too young to need a colonoscopy. He told me not to worry unless it got worse. So, I just attributed it to alcohol.
Then, one day in September 2018, I experienced such bad stomach pain that I had to go to a local emergency room. Tests there showed I had a tiny hole in my intestine that was leaking into my gut.
The attending physicians said I had diverticulitis and recommended letting the hole heal naturally. I spent four days in the hospital and returned about six weeks later for a colonoscopy. That’s when they discovered I actually had colorectal cancer. The perforation had been caused by a tumor eating through the wall of my intestine.
Why I chose MD Anderson for my colorectal cancer treatment
I live in Huntsville, about an hour north of Houston. But around here, everybody knows that if you want the best, you go to MD Anderson. So, that’s what I did.
I met first with medical oncologist Dr. Douglas Nelson, then surgical oncologist Dr. John Skibber and radiation oncologist Dr. Marc Delclos. They recommended chemotherapy and 28 rounds of radiation therapy to shrink the tumor. After that, I’d need surgery to remove the tumor, then eight more rounds of chemotherapy.
Before surgery, I’d need to have a temporary colostomy bag installed. That would collect stool outside my body during treatment to give the section of my colon with the tumor on it a chance to heal.
The whole process took about 14 months. It slowed me down a little, but I only stopped my daily routine when I absolutely had to. I still attended Mass, taught classes wearing a colostomy bag and never closed the martial arts school for longer than a week.
The school environment helped prepare me for each new challenge and focus on positive things. I also liked that I could get most of my treatments at MD Anderson The Woodlands, which is about 25 miles closer to my home than the Texas Medical Center.
My life after colorectal cancer
Today, I feel like the happiest dude on the planet. Because my colostomy bag was removed on New Year’s Eve 2019. I’ve shown no evidence of disease since February. And although I had chemobrain and neuropathy during treatment, it’s all gone now. So, even when things aren’t going great, I’m still having a good day. I cherish every millisecond.
Now, I not only think that anything is possible, I know it. Because with the help of God, my wife and MD Anderson, I have beaten my strongest opponent ever: cancer. Together, we kicked cancer’s butt.
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