Colon Cancer Survivor Pays it Forward

Written By:Stacy Simon
photo of Robert Webster and his daughter in front of ship

Robert Webster says lying around feeling sorry for himself is not for him. Even though he’s in treatment for advanced colon cancer, Webster is working to restore the beaches of Galveston, Texas, pursuing a PhD, participating in a clinical trial, and attending meetings of a cancer support group that he founded. Webster says, “I know in the long run I’m not going to win. But until then I can still juggle the balls; still do the fights.”

Life on Galveston Island

Webster worked in the Plano, Texas parks and recreation department for 25 years while periodically taking classes that related to his field, mostly in horticulture and management. As a result, he accumulated many credit hours, but lacked the general education requirements he needed to graduate. In 2000, at his wife’s urging, he decided to get his degree.

Webster, his wife, and daughter moved to Galveston, where Webster had a passion for preserving and restoring the beaches. He enrolled in Texas A&M University at Galveston, and earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Now that he’s working on his doctorate, Webster says people are listening to his ideas and he’s making progress at some positive changes on the island.

Screening can find cancer early

"There's not a lot of 'give up' in me, so I'm fighting."

Robert Webster

About 7 years ago, Webster turned 50 and scheduled a colonoscopy. American Cancer Society guidelines advise people to have a colon screening at age 50 – or earlier, for those at high risk. Webster’s colonoscopy revealed several polyps (growths), which the doctor removed and tested. The tests found cancer in a polyp – which is a very early stage. The doctor had removed all the growths from Webster’s colon, but scheduled another colonoscopy in 6 months in case the cancer came back.

Unfortunately, Webster’s cancer was unusually aggressive and the follow-up colonoscopy revealed new polyps that were cancerous. Since then, Webster has undergone 12 surgeries and taken 6 different chemotherapy drugs that have plagued him with side effects. The treatments have slowed the cancer’s growth, but have not stopped it from spreading to other organs. Webster’s latest CT scan showed spots on his lungs. But Webster isn’t ready to slow down. He says, “There’s not a lot of ‘give up’ in me, so I’m fighting.”

Getting help and giving help

Over time, Webster began to realize that many of the treatments and procedures that were keeping him alive could not have been developed without the help of patients in clinical trials. He decided to pay it forward by enrolling in a clinical trial himself and encouraging others to join. Webster says, “It’s rewarding that all the people before me had done the real trials of Avastin and all those drugs I’ve used. They didn’t cure me, but they bought me time.”

Webster also realized that Galveston had support groups for breast cancer patients, but none for other cancer patients. He worked with his local American Cancer Society office and the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to start a group for people with gastrointestinal cancers – though he says all cancer patients, relatives, and friends are welcome. They meet once a month on Tuesday evenings to hear from experts on health and cancer topics, and talk and listen to each other.

“I feel so proud that this group has come together,” says Webster. “You’re so much better when you work as a team. After a while, the fight gets really tough.”

But his biggest support comes from his family – Webster’s wife, a nursing instructor, and his mother and sister, who live on the island.

And he has a close bond with his 19-year-old daughter, who is also a fellow student at Texas A&M. Webster has a goal to make it to her senior year so he can be there when she earns her “Aggie” ring. It’s an unofficial A&M student tradition to dunk the new ring in beer and then drink it. Though Webster has had his ring for a while, he’s waiting for his daughter to earn hers so they can carry out the tradition together.

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