By Alan Gionet
AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– Stephen Estrada will tell you a story of how bad it got, “I was pretty sure I was going to die.”
It started with his diagnosis of colorectal cancer in July of 2014. Things did not look good his oncologist told him.
“I was diagnosed very, very, late.”
He did what he thought was right and followed the standard protocol for his treatment. It didn’t go well. In fact, it kept getting worse.
Stephen’s story is one of those we’re bringing you this month as we tell the stories of people in the midst of a fight with cancer. I am doing No Shave November to generate a little discussion and raise a little money to fight cancer. The same cancer that Stephen is dealing with, killed my brother. Sadly, he did not have the same options Stephen has now.
Here is my No Shave November page: https://no-shave.org/member/agionet
Stephen was 28 at the time he was diagnosed. He underwent six months of difficult chemotherapy. Doctors removed part of his colon, but in early 2015 things started going very badly. He began to hemorrhage non-stop. He received blood time after time, but kept declining. His body went from 175 pounds down to 100. He was rail thin, weak and dying.
“I kind of resigned myself to thinking it was all coming crashing down.”
But then for some reason, the bleeding stopped.
“It was kind of like a miracle,” Stephen told me.
He started doing his own research on what was going on, in spite of the fact that he’d been told many times don’t use Google to scare yourself about health problems. But it was already frightening. Stephen began to think that maybe he had a rare genetic disorder known as Lynch Syndrome. It pre-disposes people to certain types of cancer and those cancers need to be treated differently. He changed oncologists to Dr. Wells Messersmith at CU Cancer Center. Stephen became part of the stage one trial of a new immunotherapy drug. Stephen was worried about being part of the trial but found comfort in what the doctor told him.
“He said if it was his own son, he’d have him do immunotherapy.”
The start of the treatment was amazing. As the drug went in, “I could feel it (his inoperable tumor) twitching and a sharp pain as I was sitting in the chair getting the drug.”
He went to bed afterwards and slept for 13 hours. He woke up feeling totally different.
“I felt well and haven’t felt that well in two years.”
He could feel it working.
He’s been on the trial for two and a half years. Every three weeks, he goes in for another treatment because no one knows whether stopping the immunotherapy might allow the cancer to come storming back. He figures he’ll be on it for the rest of his life. But he has life and that changed him.
“Since I’ve been given this chance, I just want to ensure I help out to the best of my ability.”
A hairstylist in the past, Stephen has gone to work for the Colorado Colorectal Cancer Alliance. He’s taken a job as a community engagement senior coordinator and patient navigator. He has reached out to many people dealing with the disease to help them get the best treatment. Cancer still looms, no one knows what could happen, but Stephen’s story is reason for hope. He and his partner Kenley are rehabbing a home not far from the hospital. He’s tied to treatments. Cancer is a tough opponent.
Stephen toughed out the worst of it, hung near death and came back. He is now a tireless opponent of the disease that changed him. He’d love to assist anyone who needs his help. Here’s his email: firstname.lastname@example.org.