Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Stephen Estrada’s Immunotherapy Story

Colorectal Cancer |  Diagnosed 2013

Most of all, I want the gift of immunotherapy to be accessible to everyone.

Stephen’s Story

Stephen Estrada was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer at the age of 28. Stephen is currently in a clinical trial for a checkpoint inhibitor, a type of immunotherapy. Since beginning this treatment, his disease has remained stable, and he has been able to do more of the things he loves, like cooking, trying the latest restaurants, and traveling.  

Questions and Answers

How and when did you first learn you had cancer?

My name is Stephen Estrada. I live, work, and play in Denver, Colorado. I live with my partner of nearly 8 years, Kenley, and our two dogs Gretel and Joey. I tend to be more of a homebody since my diagnoses, but that suits us all just fine.

I was rushed into an emergency colon resection 4 days after my first CT scan showed a “cancer like mass.” I was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 28. With this diagnosis came the news that I also have a genetic condition known as Lynch Syndrome, which means I’m at an increased risk for many types of cancer.

After healing from surgery, I started a six month course of FOLFOX with Avastin. My tumor shrank enough at that point for me to receive a NanoKnife procedure. During that surgery I also underwent a stomach bypass, small intestine resection, mesenteric resection, gallbladder removal, as well as an intestinal rerouting. None of that was planned, so I was fairly shocked upon waking up.

How did you learn about immunotherapy and why did you decide to do it?

After another CT scan showed that the NanoKnife failed, I enrolled in an immunotherapy trial in June 2014.

I have what is called MSI-high cancer. This type of cancer was showing great success with immunotherapies and my oncologist felt this would be a great opportunity for me. After thinking about it for a few days, I made the decision to enroll in a phase 1 clinical trial with the study drug MPDL3280a (atezolizumab, TECENTRIQ) and Avastin.

What was treatment like? Did you have any side effects?

My current status is that I have stable disease. With the drug I’m on, they have seen people’s tumors shrink and then die, but still remain as a ball of inflammation. That might be the case with me, but there is no safe way to biopsy the tumor to see if it is metabolically active or not. So, I’ll just keep on keepin’ on!

Are there things that surprise you about the cancer experience?

In all the ways cancer has affected me, one way stands out the most. Cancer taught me how to really love myself. Before, I liked who I was. I enjoyed myself and my life. But now I can honestly say I am deeply in love with who I am. And I have cancer to thank for that.

As for the future, I just want to live life fully. Whatever that means. I don’t need to climb Mt. Everest or hike across the United States. I just want to live more in the “now.” I want to be around the people I love. I want to be more honest with myself and others. I want to enjoy what I do for a living and just be thankful that I’m able to do anything.

But most of all, I want the gift of immunotherapy to be accessible to everyone. Being on my trial has improved my life a million times over, but it hurts when I see my friends in pain from cancer. I want my gift to be everyone else’s gift too. I hope that by participating in a trial, I can help make that a reality.

What would you want another patient to know about immunotherapy or about participating in a clinical trial?

People who know me know that I research the hell out of anything and everything. That’s what got me to where I’m at now. I left my original oncologist because she was a general oncologist, and I wanted the best in the GI cancer world. Every cancer patient deserves the best, but they have to research and be their own advocate. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Keep going, keep reading, keep asking questions.

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