Colon Cancer Survivor Gives Hope to Colostomy Patients

Written By:Stacy Simon

"I felt there was a purpose behind everything I went through. I felt everything had happened for a reason. I went through stages questioning why this happened to me - why me? But when I saw there was hope from my story, I was moved."

Mauricio Yepes

Colon cancer survivor Mauricio Yepes has spent the past 2 years traveling through Colombia and speaking to patients about living with a colostomy or other type of ostomy. He uses his own life experiences to give others hope that it’s possible to live a full, active life while managing the inconveniences of an ostomy bag. In one 2-day meeting, Yepes shared his story with doctors and patients who gathered from all over Latin America. Yepes says it gave him a feeling of purpose and fulfillment.

“I felt very glad that I was able to help. I felt there was a purpose behind everything I went through. I felt everything had happened for a reason. I went through stages questioning why this happened to me – why me? But when I saw there was hope from my story, I was moved.”

Vacation interrupted

Yepes, 40, lives in Florida with his wife and children. In 2013, he went to Medellin, Colombia to visit family he had not seen in several years. While there, he suddenly felt very sick and began bleeding. He was admitted to the hospital and underwent tests including a colonoscopy, which revealed a growth in his colon.

Yepes wanted to return to the US for treatment, but the bleeding became worse and his doctor recommended surgery right away to remove the growth. Unfortunately, the doctor was not able to remove the whole tumor and a biopsy showed it was cancer. Yepes spent 2 weeks in the hospital getting the bleeding under control, then had radiation and chemotherapy. He developed excruciating abdominal pain, which turned out to be from an infected gallbladder. Doctors said gallbladder surgery would be too risky.

“The pain was unbearable,” said Yepes. “It got so bad, I went to the emergency room, reviewed the situation, and put it into God’s hands.” He had his gallbladder removed despite the risks, and for the next year continued his recovery in Colombia, seeing doctors, and having tests. In February 2014, Yepes had the rest of his tumor removed, along with almost 13 inches of his colon.

It was a difficult time both physically and emotionally. Yepes’ side effects from treatment included infection, pain, weight loss, hair loss, weakness, and vomiting. He needed help to shower and use the bathroom. At one low point his doctors thought he might not survive, and his family flew in from Florida to say goodbye.

“It was devastating to be cared for because I’ve always been a go-getter. I’ve always been the one who took care of everything,” said Yepes. “We didn’t know what was going to happen. It took a toll on everybody, but in a way it brought everybody together. It turned into a very uplifting experience with everybody sharing and caring.”

Regaining freedom

Once Yepes was strong enough to get out of bed, he began slowly to walk, then exercise a little every day. Before he got sick, he was used to being very active – hiking, road biking, and participating in extreme sports. But the stronger Yepes grew, the more confined he felt by his colostomy. During surgery, doctors had connected his remaining colon to an opening in the skin, to allow for the passage of waste.

“When I was trying to move out of the house to get some freedom, I was stuck with a bag attached to my abdomen that ruled my whole world,” said Yepes. “I was constantly in and out of the bathroom to deal with bag. It was very frustrating and I felt embarrassed to go out. I knew I couldn’t just have a relationship with bag, so I began to do research.”

Yepes found information about the irrigation method of managing a colostomy. He tried it, and it worked well for his type of colostomy. With time and practice, it became easier and he began to be active again.

“In the beginning it was hard because it takes a long time to educate your body to do what you need it to do at a certain time. You have to have a lot of patience. It takes persistence, trial and error,” said Yepes. “At around 6 months I was able to get out of the house. I’ve been hiking, mountain climbing, and mountain biking. I walked for 2 hours to a waterfall in mountains of Armenia, Colombia. It was the first time since the surgery that I felt free.”

Today Yepes says most of the time he doesn’t wear a bag at all, and at times almost forgets he even has an ostomy. He is passionate about using his story to help others. “This whole thing turned out to be something positive for me as well as other people,” said Yepes. “God allowed me to go through this for a reason and a purpose.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

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