How a colon cancer diagnosis helped forge a new career path
"Listen to your mother" is advice that is sometimes easier said than done. But for Edgar Garcia, following it just may have saved his life.
In the fall 2010, 23-year-old Edgar was a first-year high school teacher in Brownsville, Texas. He'd also taken on football and basketball coaching responsibilities. With such a full plate, he didn't give much thought to his mother's suggestion that he see a doctor because he looked pale.
But she didn't give up. When Edgar started noticing some fatigue, he decided to take her advice and give her peace of mind.
A surprising colon cancer diagnosis
Results from blood work revealed low iron levels, which is uncommon for people Edgar's age. His doctor referred him to a specialist for a colonoscopy. On December 17, 2010, Edgar received the most shocking news of his life: he had colon cancer.
"I was scared," he says. "I didn't know what to expect and didn't know how to handle it."
Edgar's colon cancer treatment
After a CT scan, doctors suspected that the cancer may have spread to Edgar's lymph nodes. Two weeks later, he met with Christopher Garrett, M.D. at MD Anderson.
Edgar underwent surgery to remove part of his colon and examine some lymph nodes on January 5. Four days later, his surgeon, John M. Skibber, M.D., came bearing good news. The cancer had not spread. Edgar would not need chemotherapy.
"After that, I came back home and my life had changed completely," he says. "It felt like a new beginning."
Finding inspiration in adversity
The care Edgar received at MD Anderson made quite an impact on him.
"I wasn't expecting or used to everyone being so friendly, kind and helpful," he says. "I feel like that's what makes MD Anderson so special."
Edgar had always planned to attend dental school, but his experience with physician assistant Elizabeth Wolf convinced him to pursue the physician assistant program at The University of Texas - Pan American instead.
"I remember her clearly," he says. "If there was anything I was unsure of, I could always call her and she'd gladly answer all of my questions. She motivated me to become a physician assistant."
Edgar did his rotations at MD Anderson with Cathy Eng, M.D. After graduating in December 2014, he is now waiting on the results of his board exams so he can begin his career.
"Her knowledge is impressive," he says. "Her work ethic and patient rapport is something I really learned from."
Celebrating the positive
On March 28, Edgar will participate in the 10th annual Sprint for Colorectal Oncology Prevention and Education (SCOPE) 5K for the first time. At the race, he will receive the Erin Scott Courageous Spirit Award.
The award is given to recognize a colorectal cancer patient who demonstrates inspirational courage and strength in their fight to beat the disease.
"His personal experience and the fact that he was studying for his PA degree and wanted to stay within the field of oncology was a clear indication of his courageous spirit," says Eng, who nominated him for the award.
Being nominated for the award has been a humbling experience for Edgar.
"I've received awards in different areas and by far this is the most important one," he says. "It makes me relive those tough moments and how, with the help of God, I managed to turn it into something positive."