My name is Jeremy Echols. I live in Houston, Texas and am 35 years old. I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at 33. Before my diagnosis I practically lived in the gym. I worked out eight times a week, followed a strict meal plan, never smoked and was not a heavy drinker. There is no genetic history of colon cancer in my family.
My story begins in May of 2018 when I started noticing abdominal pain. Nothing too severe, but it was consistent. A month later I started noticing blood in my stool so I booked an appointment with a colorectal surgeon. He told me “I doubt it is anything serious but let’s book you for a colonoscopy just to be sure.” I’m so grateful he suggested that. I’ve heard so many stories of people being misdiagnosed early only to find out they had cancer the entire time.
After I had a colonoscopy that August, the surgeon said he found a mass but wasn’t sure what it was and would know after a biopsy. A week later I received a voicemail while I was at work. I typically don’t listen to voicemails at all, especially at work but for some reason I listened to this one. It was from the Houston Methodist Cancer Center calling to schedule a new patient appointment. That’s how I found out I had cancer, through a voicemail. I found an empty conference room and just cried. I started blaming myself for something that I had no control over.
The first person I called was my Dad to let him know. He had been diagnosed with stomach cancer just three months prior to me. He was my strength throughout the entire process. I was scheduled for surgery that September. My oncologist told that my prognosis was really good and was Stage I. I would have surgery and depending on how it went I MIGHT have a few cautionary rounds of chemotherapy, if any. I had a seven hour laparoscopic procedure to remove a section of my colon. The procedure caused some severe nerve damage in my left leg. I stayed in the hospital for four days then had about 6 weeks of recovery. During those six weeks I had a PET scan. I was expecting to hear ‘You look great and don’t need chemo.’ Unfortunately, my oncologist said, “Your results show evidence of disease in your liver and aorta. We should have caught this before surgery but you’re definitely Stage IV and will need full chemotherapy.” That was the moment I just knew I was dying. My friend came with me to that appointment and he said “God is going to take care of you.” I’ve replayed those eight words continuously during treatment.
I started chemotherapy in October 2018. By then I was back working and was still keeping my diagnosis private. I didn’t want anyone treating me differently or having pity. I later realized that was my own shame of not wanting to be labeled as sick or unreliable. I would take my work with me to the infusion center. There plenty of days where I would excuse myself from a meeting in the office, go throw up, gather myself and return to the meeting as if nothing happened. I would not suggest anyone else do that. I put unnecessary pressure on myself and it was too much to carry.
I started sharing my story and instantly learned how therapeutic it is. This process has been full of ups and downs. After 12 rounds of chemotherapy I received results that my scans were ‘stable’ and I would be off of all treatment. As great as that news was to hear, it was also the same day that my Dad passed away. It was a hard pill to swallow to know that I was getting substantially better and not be able to share the news with him. I realized now that, in a way, we both won that day.
I’m not fully cured yet and may still have more treatment in my future. I still get anxiety, struggle with survivors guilt and get scared of ‘what ifs’ occasionally, but overall I’m happy with where I am today. While it wasn’t in the way I wanted things to play out, it’s my story and I hope it provides some hope for others. I have gained more appreciation for life and am thankful for everyday that I am here.
*Thank you so much Jeremy for sharing your story and the powerful message that cancer can hit young, fit and healthy people. It isn’t about scare mongering, rather educating others that cancer does not discriminate. Governments worldwide should be reassessing the screening age, which currently stands at 50 in most countries. If you do have any symptoms, don’t take a chance, schedule a visit/email/phone call with your doctor. You can see more of Jeremy’s story through his Instagram account, he continues to raise awareness for colon cancer and writes about his ‘scanxiety’. If you are fighting cancer or a survivor, please reach out to people like Jeremy, you are not alone and we are all here to support you.
I would also like to say, I am deeply sorry for your loss Jeremy. I am sure your father is looking down on you and is extremely proud of your strength and courage. Jojo xo