TEXAS — It started with digestive issues, then a tumor in his colon. For Charles Aguillon and his wife Vanessa, their worlds were turned upside down when he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in July of 2019, then came the pandemic.
“I literally never even checked the mail, or went outside,” Aguillon, a survivor of colon cancer said. “I literally got in the car and went to treatment. Got back home and came back to the apartment.”
He was diagnosed with colon cancer at the age of 48, a time when his youngest son was about to enter his senior year of high school.
For Aguillon, it started as digestive issues then a trip to his primary care doctor. When nothing was working a colonoscopy was the next step.
“The doctor said, ‘You know, I can't even get past a certain point because there's a large mass there,’” said Aguillon.
“He was having some of these symptoms that went on for several months, and being younger, I think, you know, you don't automatically think, oh, gosh, this could be a colon cancer,” said Dr. Jeff Yorio, M.D., Aguillon’s medical oncologist at Texas Oncology–Austin Central.
Yorio says catching it early was Aguillon’s best chance of survival. After chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery he was able to beat cancer in May of 2020, just in time for his son to walk the stage.
Aguillon credits being proactive and visiting his doctor early as the reason he’s still alive today, encouraging everyone with ongoing issues to be screened.
“Just the fact that I got some people to go in and have colonoscopies or just go talk to their doctor was, if anything, of a blessing for me that I feel like, you know, sharing my story, helped others,” said Aguillon.
While more than 90 percent of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed in adults 50 years and older, recent research indicates a rise in cases among younger adults like Aguillon, prompting the American Cancer Society to update its recommendation for adults with average risk to begin screenings at age 45.
Compounded with the increasing prevalence of new colorectal cancer cases, oncologists are simultaneously concerned about the recent and significant drop in cancer screenings due to COVID-19. According to the Health Care Cost Institute, colonoscopies fell almost 90 percent, early in the pandemic, and were still down 10-15 percent last November. The National Cancer Institute projects as many as 10,000 additional deaths during the next 10 years from breast and colorectal cancers alone as a direct result of failure to get screened during the pandemic.
Aguillon underwent chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery to complete his treatment last summer. His personal goal throughout this cancer journey has been to encourage others to stay in tune with their own bodies and to continue their cancer screenings, like colonoscopies, that can foster early detection and save lives, and his advocacy won’t end with his treatments.