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Faces of Blue: Riley Castro

Faces of Blue: Riley Castro

I was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at 24-years-old and 17 weeks pregnant. The father of the baby was only three weeks into his deployment when we found out about the pregnancy, and two months into his deployment when I was diagnosed.  

I went to the ER in Clovis, New Mexico for left abdominal pain that had been dismissed more than a handful of times over the course of two years. At the ER, the doctor told me they saw what appeared to be my left ovary twisted. I agreed to do the surgery, even though I had this life growing inside of me. I woke up and I had a colostomy bag and an upside down T incision on my stomach. They told me my intestine was dead and found an abscess along with a lot of infection. A few days later I was told I had colon cancer.

I was sent to Lubbock, TX for another opinion because my town did not have the capacity to decide how to treat a pregnant woman with colon cancer. Before being sent there, James, the father of our unborn baby, was sent back early from his deployment to be with me.

James and my parents took turns taking time off of work to make that two hour drive to visit me. Every day we awaited any type of direction or answer to our numerous questions. During this week of waiting, I had x-rays, blood tests, ultrasounds, and constant checks on my unborn baby’s heartbeat.

We were informed that my cancer was stage IV. The OB told me that he could get me through the pregnancy. At the same time my OB told James and my parents, “James you might want to prepare to be a single father because we don’t know how long she will have after the baby is here.”

I was then given options for treatment and how to move forward. I was told I would not need radiation because of the location of the tumor, but I would need chemotherapy. I was asked if I wanted to move forward with treatment and terminate the baby, wait on treatment and continue the pregnancy, or begin chemo and continue with the pregnancy. I am thankful to the OBs for not being judgmental. They did not push me one way or the other. At the end of the day we decided to go to MD Anderson in Houston to get  another opinion.

Around a month later we got an appointment at MD Anderson. After the appointment we still did not know what the best option was. We Faces of Blue: Riley Castrowere told that the “easier” chemo was not an option due to what the testing of my tumor showed. I had to do a different chemo that they did not have much knowledge or information on when it came to a pregnant woman. James and I discussed it and I decided I WOULD go ahead with treatment for a couple reasons. The first reason was I already promised my parents that I would put myself first. The second reason was if God wanted me to have this baby then he would get that baby through this. And if not, then it just wasn’t meant to be.

On March 31, 2015, about 2 months after my diagnosis, I started my chemo treatments and it was so overwhelming. I was crying before I even had my port accessed. I had four rounds of chemo completed with minimal side effects, and I was due for two more before having my baby, but my body had other plans. I had eclampsia and seized twice. I went from one ER to another then I had to be life flighted to Lubbock.

I delivered my daughter on June 12, 2015, barely four and a half months after my initial diagnosis. Praise the Lord, she was perfectly healthy. She was four pounds and four ounces and 17.2 inches!  

With that came a month off from chemo. Not even a month after I had my daughter, I had another trip to MD Anderson to get my first CT scan. The scan confirmed the cancer is still in my abdominal area and my oncologist recommended a very difficult and toxic chemo. I was told the new chemo drugs would be difficult, but I’m young and healthy enough to handle it. They didn’t prepare me for the lack of being able to care for my child or being myself!

James would drive my daughter and I to Lubbock, where we would be in infusion for six to nine hours. I’d get a pump attached to me so I could continue receiving the chemo for the next 46 hours. I was sick and home all day the next day. The day after that we would go back to Lubbock so I could get disconnected and receive fluids to hydrate me.

After chemo days I would remain ill for a week and not get out of bed, shower, eat, drive, or function. My family being there was the main reason my daughter Bryelle could be cared for. It was hard for me to truly interact with her because the energy was just non-existent.Faces of Blue: Riley Castro

I wanted to give up on chemo. Being constantly sick and unable to function just left me with no quality of life. I’ll never forget laying on the couch and praying for some relief from my nausea. I told James I was done, I wasn’t going to do it anymore.  He had our daughter and said, “remember who you are fighting for.”  

I did complete the last five rounds of that chemo, with each one being worse than the last, but I did it. January 22, 2016, I rang the bell signifying I completed my 13 rounds of chemo. Although, I was far from done with my journey. In February 2016, I was back to MD Anderson to get more scans, along with a laparoscopic diagnostic procedure to ensure I was a candidate for the HIPEC procedure.

The next day we found out he was happy with what he saw and that the surgery was a go! In just two weeks I went back for a surgery which consisted of removing the remaining tumors, gallbladder, appendix, omentum, more of my large intestine, a full hysterectomy, having my colostomy reversed, and giving me a temporary ileostomy. They would then be doing the HIPEC wash around my abdomen with chemo agents heated to 108 degrees.

I was in the hospital for a week and the surgeon told me I was declared NED – no evidence of disease, remission. After I was discharged, we had to stay in a hotel for the next week to make sure everything was still healing well.  After the week check-up we were sent home. It wasn’t long until the shock set in that my body was put into surgically induced menopause.  I was never given a heads up about what I would feel, symptoms, or how to handle them. Anything I knew was from friends that have given me information or the internet.  

I’m still battling side effects from that intense change that my body went through.  Hot flashes, intense irritability, fatigue, and hair thinning were just from the hysterectomy. That doesn’t even go into the lasting side effects from chemo.  

Faces of Blue: Riley CastroAround a month-and-a-half after returning home, James had to deploy again. It was right before my ileostomy reversal surgery that I had done in May. That procedure was so simple compared to everything else. Although, it was still a struggle having an 11-month-old that still wasn’t walking on her own yet.

Since then I have fully healed and I continue to tell my story to give others hope and push those to advocate for themselves.  I am involved in my community Relay for Life as Survivor Chair. I obtained my Master’s degree through all of this, and my daughter will soon be turning two! I was recently told I was accepted to go to Tennessee for the Colon Club’s On The Rise magazine! I will be a featured survivor along with ten other survivors and two caregivers!

I try to get out as much as I can to share my story because awareness and education is very important to me. It can make such a huge difference in someone’s life. I wouldn’t trade this life for one without cancer. I know that sounds crazy, but the amount of knowledge I have now, and the amount of amazing people I have met is beyond anything I could ever imagine. I know I wouldn’t have this if I was never diagnosed. I have always been a resilient and positive person, but this really put me to the test, and I couldn’t be more thankful for God choosing me to go through this and coming out the person that I am.  

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