By Alan Gionet

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4)– “This cancer really changed me,” Alex Hauenstein said.

At 23, he has been through a great deal. First there was drugs and lawbreaking. He was going the wrong way in life.

“I truly was not a good person whatsoever,” he said.

Just getting through that was one ordeal, cancer is another.

alex hauenstein 3 Clean And Sober: Then Cancer

(credit: Alex Hauenstein)

Alex is thoughtful, a lover of reading Shakespeare. He loves the written prose.

“I like to write lyrics and poetry and learn a lot.”

Shakespeare inspires his mind. In the hospital, friends brought him books. He went to CSU to study writing for a bit, but things turned in his teenage years. Drugs and trouble.

“This I really am not too proud of,” said Alex.

He admits he got into cocaine and opioids. There was spiral so bad at age 19, his parents got tough.

“My parents decided I needed to learn a lesson, they gave me the tough love that I needed,” recalled Alex.

They threw him out. He started living in a car and stealing to get what he needed.

“It was me being the enemy,” Alex admits.

alex hauenstein 2 Clean And Sober: Then Cancer

(credit: Alex Hauenstein)

Then came the legal troubles. There was jail. Friends died.

“A lot of things should have killed me,” said Alex. But he stopped. “I wasn’t going to be the person who killed me at the end of the day.”

With credit to his parents he changed things. He became a good worker at a restaurant. After 2½ years of being clean, he felt he could be relied upon.

“I became the heart and soul of the place.”

In January of this year, he wasn’t feeling well. His back hurt. He blamed sleeping on a couch at a friend’s apartment. There was some coughing, then blood with coughing.

“I was supposed to work a 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. double shift. I was having back spasms all night.”

It was time to see a doctor. It started with a chest x-ray.

“They found lesions in my lungs and did a couple of CAT scans. They found a tumor next to my left kidney the size of a grapefruit.”

Doctors said he’d need pain killers. He wanted no part of them.

alex hauenstein 1 Clean And Sober: Then Cancer

(credit: Alex Hauenstein)

“The doctor literally sat me down, ‘You have cancer, late stage cancer. Worry about that later.’”

It was a germ cell cancer, known as choriocarcinoma, a type that usually starts as testicular cancer in men. But his tumor had formed by his kidney. It had also spread to his lungs. It was very rare and statistically the odds of survival are very poor.

Chemotherapy was brutal. He had four rounds. The cancer responded, but not enough. They switched. He had another three rounds.

“Doctors said they’d never seen anybody with such a bad reaction,” said Alex. “I was throwing up close to thirty times in one day.”

That damaged his esophagus, which nearly swelled shut. He faced down the worst of it.

“They said 95 percent of cancer is your mentality. So, I decided I wouldn’t believe I had it anymore.”

Doctors wanted to lower his chemotherapy and wanted to gauge where he was. They gave him a PET scan.

“I just had a good feeling about it and told every single person in my life, I don’t believe I have cancer. I believe I am cancer free.”

The scans he said, indicated the tumors were dead.

“It was a miracle basically,” Alex said.

There are more scans ahead for Alex. Cancer has a way of hiding and eluding. But right now he’s making plans. He is thinking of becoming an inspirational speaker. He’s thinking about online school and creative writing. He wrote a piece in January he titled, “More than cancer.”

There is more than cancer to his life. One of overcoming a lot to live with cancer.

“Even in this dark world, life is beautiful,” said Alex.

Alan Gionet is telling the stories of people with cancer during his No Shave November effort. Here’s where you can add to that effort to beat cancer:  https://no-shave.org/member/agionet 

Alan Gionet is anchor of CBS4 This Morning and reports on a wide variety of issues and “Good Question” stories. He started at CBS4 in 1994. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanGTV or on Facebook.

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