Help increase screening and prevention for colon & rectal cancer.


Faces of Blue: Roberto Cowan

By October 29, 2020Faces of Blue
Roberto Cowen Faces of Blue

My name is Roberto, and I was 30 when I was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

I had blood in my stool for over a year. Not just once a week, but multiple times a day. I have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so I attributed it to that. I mentioned it to one of my general providers once, not telling them the frequency, and they thought it was an anal fissure. I went to see another general provider, and as soon as I told them the frequency of the blood, they told me to get a colonoscopy.Roberto Cowen Faces of Blue

I thought they were going to tell me to change my diet, but instead, they found a mass in my rectum. That was February 22, 2019. On March 4, after scans and another doctor’s appointment, I was diagnosed with stage II/III rectal cancer.

I started chemotherapy in April. I had eight rounds of it. Every two weeks I would get an infusion. The infusion itself lasted two hours, then I carried around a pump for 46 hours. I continued to work throughout my entire treatment. The only days I took off were the actual infusion days. As I got further into chemo, the fatigue started to hit me harder.

Once I finished chemotherapy, I had a break. I started chemoradiation in July and finished 28 rounds on September 10. Starting each round at 7 a.m. so I could go to work right after. Every morning in the waiting room for the machines I was the youngest man in there by 20 years.

When I started chemoradiation, I started immunotherapy as well. That continued until the middle of October.

Roberto Cowen Faces of BlueI had a laparoscopic sigmoidectomy on November 13, where they removed most of my rectum, and gave me a temporary ileostomy. Learning how to empty out the bag, changing it out, and for that matter just looking down and seeing your small intestine was an adjustment to say the least. The great news was that when they went in for surgery they discovered a 99% response to the treatment, my margins were totally clear, and I was declared NED post surgery.

Three weeks post surgery I had pain in the base of my tailbone. I thought it was from sitting funny. Then I got a fever of 102, and went to the hospital over Thanksgiving. It turns out there was an abscess of fluid at the base of my tailbone that had gotten infected. In order to keep it drained, and cure the infection I got an accordion pump through my left butt cheek, and had to administer antibiotics via my chest port for 3 weeks.

Once I got the drain removed I was ready for my reversal, but had to do a follow up scan to make sure the fluid was gone. There was still a little bit left, so my surgery got pushed out to February.

Going back to work was also an adjustment. I was out from the week of November 13 to the week of New Years. Then I came back for six weeks before being off for another two weeks for reversal surgery in February.

Reversal surgery was February 21, 2020. Almost a year exactly after my initial colonoscopy that started me down this journey. It was surreal, but I was ready for it.

Roberto Cowen Faces of Blue

The surgery was a success, and now I’m in the process of finding my new normal. I’ve been slowly introducing things back into my diet, letting my bowels get used to working again.

Throughout all of my treatments I still went to my weekly social run – even if I wasn’t running, I would still go and walk.

The hospital where I received treatment, UT Southwestern, started a young adult support group in July 2019. I got the opportunity to be a part of it. Cancer has been an interesting journey so far, my life has been forever changed as a result. There is nothing left to do but to continue on and adjust to my new normal.

I want to share my colorectal journey in the hopes that it will make someone realize that they are not alone. I want people to see that while it may seem crazy for young adults to get colorectal cancer, it’s not that rare. Just because you don’t often hear about it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

If something seems off talk to your doctor, and don’t be afraid to go to another one to get another opinion.

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. At some point you will need it. 

Return to Faces of Blue  Age is Not a Factor

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