When Sandi Stupica was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at just 29, she immediately became her own health advocate—playing an active role in her treatment plan and even talking to her doctor about fertility preservation.
My name is Sandi Stupica and I live in Ypsilanti, MI. This is my sixth year as a high school English teacher at Ypsilanti New Tech. Well, kind of my sixth year. I have been out on long-term disability since September to recover from my two surgeries: the surgery to remove the tumor and, therefore, get the ostomy; and the surgery to remove the ostomy and get the J-Pouch. It seems the surgeries have been successful and I’m feeling much better now!
My first year of teaching was in rural, middle-of-the-state Okeechobee, FL. I grew up in Michigan, so I wanted to try and find a job in my home state for my second year of teaching. Even though I came back to Michigan, I met some great people in “Chobee” and stayed in contact via Facebook. In November 2014, my friend Jason, who was a 32-year-old teacher in Florida, posted that he was diagnosed with stage I colorectal cancer (later, he would find out that he actually had stage III). He posted some of the symptoms and why he went to the doctor. I had been feeling discomfort like he had, but I thought I had a lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance. Until 2015, I had no signs of rectal bleeding. To be safe, I reached out to him, as well as doctors. Luckily, my doctor recommended a colonoscopy. When I went in, they discovered that I had over forty polyps and a two inch tumor closer to my rectum. I had stage III colorectal cancer at 29 years old.
Having colorectal cancer is a battle, but I also took on the battle of fertility preservation just in case my reproductive system reacted harshly to the chemotherapy. I decided to not have radiation to increase my chances of fertility in the future. My milestones to colorectal survival are the following: fertility preservation, chemotherapy (with oxaliplatin, leucovorin, and Fulfox5), surgery to remove the tumor and get the ostomy and the final surgery of the J-Pouch. I worked through the fertility preservation and chemotherapy.
I am fortunate to have a friend, who unfortunately also had colorectal cancer, who gave me the idea of going through fertility preservation. This friend was a male, so his experience with fertility preservation was different and much easier! I was the one who told my oncologist I wanted the fertility preservation. In fact, when I brought it up to him, my doctor’s reaction was sort of like, “Hmm, that is a good idea.”
My oncologist gave me a strict time frame to finish the fertility preservation. Since I was stage III, he wanted to get chemotherapy started soon. Three weeks seems rushed, but the oncologist I originally had at a different hospital made it seem like I didn’t even have time for chemotherapy—like I needed surgery right away. I’m glad I got a second opinion from a hospital that listened to me.
I want the world to know you should give cancer the middle finger. This was the most positive way to start my very uphill battle. Know that you are not alone—you have a community.
Sandi Stupica, 29
Stage III survivor