Colorectal cancer doesn’t run in my family, so I never thought that it would be a battle I had to face at age 27. That changed when I noticed my body starting to change in 2012. My bowel movements swiftly changed from very normal to the extreme opposite.
I had a terrible pain in my rectum and noticed blood in my stool. My gastroenterologist said it may be nothing to worry about but recommended I have a colonoscopy because of the blood in my stool.
My colorectal cancer diagnosis and treatment
I had the colonoscopy done on a Monday and was diagnosed with colorectal cancer that Wednesday. I was shocked. All I could muster up through the tears was, “But I am only 27!”
My doctors highly recommended that I be treated at MD Anderson. Knowing MD Anderson’s reputation, I knew I would be in great hands. I was right. My oncologist, Cathy Eng, M.D., made me feel so comfortable and at ease. She explained things in ways that were sympathetic and easy to understand.
Throughout my initial six weeks of radiation and chemotherapy, I kept asking myself, “How is this possible? I am 27.” I was so fearful of the unknown, but I knew that I was in good hands by the grace of God, my doctors and my family. My support system saved me from going into a deep depression.
After those six weeks, George Chang, M.D., performed surgery to remove the tumor and my rectum. That’s when we learned the cancer had spread to my liver. So I was officially at stage IV. Dr. Chang was truly amazing and, like Dr. Eng, made me feel so comfortable and at ease with this news. After healing from surgery, it was time for more chemotherapy.
After having my rectum removed, I had to adjust to life with a temporary ileostomy, which diverted part of the colon, the ileum, to an artificial opening, called a stoma, on my abdomen. My bowel movements were emptied into a colostomy bag. No one could see it, and my doctors taught me how to live with one. I even named my ileostomy Rosita to help me cope. She had her own personality, but I kept her at bay.
I remember being so sick and tired all the time from the chemotherapy. Thank goodness I had a huge, devoted team of family, friends and my MD Anderson care team to support me and get though the dark and tough times. Believe me, nothing about cancer is easy. There is a reason why many people call it a battle. I was battling cancer, fighting for my life, and I refused to let it get the best of me!
In late August 2013, I finally got though the chemo, and two months later I had my ileostomy reversed. I was in remission for a year. But in August 2014, a routine CT scan showed my liver was covered with tumors. So I received eight more rounds of heavy chemotherapy.
Living with stage IV colorectal cancer
Today I still live with cancer, but it is completely managed. I am on a maintenance chemotherapy regimen where I take pills every couple of weeks. Luckily, it does not make me sick. My doctors and I are very optimistic that I will live a long, joyful and fulfilling life. I have no reason to worry because I am in good hands, thanks to Dr. Chang, and Dr. Eng and her incredible team of specialists.
I have learned so much about myself and cancer. I now know that colorectal cancer can affect even young adults like myself. I’ve also learned that getting screened for colorectal cancer is nothing to be afraid of. Colorectal cancer can be curable if found early -- the key is early detection. Listening to your body and being proactive about your health can save your life. I know it saved mine.
I am a better person today because of the battle I fought and continue to fight. Life is a precious gift, and I plan to live each day happy and blessed.
Stacey Betancourt will be honored at the 11th annual SCOPE 5K run, which will be held at MD Anderson on Saturday, March 12, 2016. The race promotes colon cancer screening and honors those diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Learn more.