August 13, 2019
In early 2016, John Chavez was living life and not thinking much about his health. He had scheduled a routine colonoscopy because, at 54, he was several years beyond the age where colon cancer screening is recommended. Plus, he had a family history of colorectal disease. His father had died from colon cancer at age 60.
During John’s colonoscopy several polyps were removed and sent for analysis. To John’s surprise, the diagnosis came back as early-stage colon cancer.
John, who lives in Smithville, Missouri, met with a surgeon in North Kansas City who recommended a colon resection to remove the length of colon where the cancer was discovered. Following the surgery, tissue samples were analyzed, but this time there was good news. His lymph nodes were clear, and there was no sign the cancer had spread. John was considered cancer-free and needed no further treatment.
A follow-up colonoscopy a year later, in 2017, raised some flags. During the exam, John’s physician saw something unusual near the site of the original cancer. The biopsied tissue showed abnormal cells, but physicians could not confirm a cancer diagnosis.
Second opinion confirms colon cancer
At this point, John wanted a second opinion. A friend suggested he go to The University of Kansas Cancer Center.
At the cancer center, John met with surgical oncologist, John Ashcraft, DO, and instantly knew he wanted the cancer center’s team to manage his treatment. Dr. Ashcraft recommended a second colon resection.
Following the surgery, it was determined John’s cancer had recurred but it had not spread. However, his care team was concerned about why the cancer had recurred so quickly. That’s when medical oncologist Raed Al-Rajabi, MD, recommended John receive chemotherapy.
He had 2 options: chemotherapy in pill form or traditional chemotherapy via infusion. Dr. Al-Rajabi made sure John understood the possible difference in outcomes. While the pills offered an easier, quicker path to completion, traditional treatment potentially offered a more condensed way to receive chemotherapy while allowing him to continue working.
Never one to take the path of least resistance, John chose traditional chemotherapy. He completed 6 rounds. In addition to receiving a weekly chemotherapy drip at the cancer center, John wore a portable pump that provided around-the-clock continuous infusion of chemotherapy. This allowed him to return to work and maintain his daily routine.
“Dr. Al-Rajabi and his team gave me options. They let me decide what day to do my treatment,” he says. “My infusions took 46 hours start to finish, so I picked Wednesday. I’d go in to have the infusion started, and then I’d go to work. I’d come back on Friday for them to stop it. Then I had the weekend to recover, so I could go back to work each Monday after treatment. I never missed a day of work.”
John’s treatment plan was personalized to meet his needs, which meant that he was still able to perform safely on the job.
“We followed him very closely during his 6 months of chemotherapy,” Dr. Al-Rajabi says. “I was concerned about neuropathy in his hands because that can be a side effect of chemotherapy. John drives a forklift and manages warehouses, so it’s important for him to be able to feel properly with his hands. Thankfully, he had no problems. In fact, our entire team was amazed at how well he tolerated his treatment.”
Getting on with life
John believes his positive attitude during treatment contributed to his success. He continues to apply that same optimistic outlook with a true passion for everyday life. He and his wife purchased a new home with a pool so he can swim every day. He also exercises regularly and eats healthier.
He’s also developing new hobbies, as evidenced in the recent purchase of a motorcycle. And he has 2 grandchildren he intends to see grow up. Most important, he is diligent about his follow-up colonoscopy screenings.
Dr. Al-Rajabi says he believes John saved his own life by being proactive about his care.
“He was doing regular screening colonoscopy when the first mass was discovered. Colonoscopy did its job quite well in John’s situation, not once but twice, by picking up on 2 very early-stage colon cancers,” says Dr. Al-Rajabi. “That made our job treating him far easier.”