Throughout college, Evan White would occasionally notice some blood in his stool. It occurred sporadically so he thought little of it. Two years after graduating, he visited his doctor after noticing his energy had waned. The diagnosis shocked him.
“How the heck do I have colon cancer at 24? The only thing you ever heard about it is that it’s common in older people,” White, now 27, of Dallas, recalled to TODAY. “I was thinking, ‘This is a dream, right? This isn’t real.'”
Thanks to surgery and treatment, White was cancer-free for a year. But in February 2019, scans revealed his cancer came back — and this time it was stage 4. White’s sharing his story to encourage others to see a doctor if something feels wrong.
“Being able to speak up and talk with your doctor can help catch some of this stuff before it progresses and gets much worse,” he said.
A serious symptom ignored
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S. and the third leading cause of cancer deaths in American men and women combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More adults in their 20s and 30s are being diagnosed, a recent study found. While experts are unsure of what is leading to the rise in cases, they want young adults to be aware of the symptoms of colorectal cancer:
- Rectal bleeding
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Abdominal pain
- Narrow stools
- An unproductive urge to have a bowel movement
- Unexplained weight loss
White noticed he occasionally experienced bloody stools throughout college, but he didn’t worry too much.
“I was basically invincible. I never went to the doctor. For me, for something to happen then go away and resolve itself on its own, I didn’t think much of it,” he said. “I never thought I needed to go tell somebody about this."
After college he noticed that exercise soon felt challenging.
“I had always been in good physical shape,” White said. “I could play pick-up basketball with my friends, maybe for one or two plays, and then I would absolutely be gasping for air. I could barely even run."
He wondered if he was just out of shape, but thought perhaps he had developed asthma. Then he contracted what he thought was strep throat and he was at the emergency room receiving care when doctors noticed abnormal bloodwork.
“They realized my blood counts were off and they also had me do a stool sample,” he said. “Even with the immense fatigue I probably wouldn’t have put two and two together that it was related to having blood in my stool. I don’t know if I would have ever brought that up with my doctor.”
White underwent surgery and six months of chemotherapy with no evidence of disease. Soon after his clear diagnosis, he asked about 50 people to join him for a bar crawl and he sold T-shirts to raise money for colorectal cancer. After the success of the first bar crawl, he started to plan the second, hoping to exceed the $500 he raised the last year.
“I’m always going to do what I can to fight this disease,” he said. “The second week after I announced it, I found out my cancer was back. It was one of those stories you can’t even make up. The timing was insane.”
Stage 4 cancer, COVID-19 and a happy future
The scans revealed that White had cancer in his lungs. While the bar crawl raised $20,000, the cancer’s resurgence meant White faces indefinite chemotherapy treatment to keep the cancer from spreading further. In November 2019, he had surgery to remove some of the cancer but three months later, doctors noticed it grew again.
“They were definitely concerned with how quickly it showed up. But since I’ve been on chemo again everything has been stable,” he said. “It has been a positive sign.”
In early July, White faced another setback as he was diagnosed with COVID-19. While he had been quarantining as much as possible, he still tested positive for it along with his parents and his girlfriend, Katie Briggs.
“It stayed mild but it delayed some of my scans for a little bit,” he said.
Even though life after college isn’t what he hoped for, White stays positive. He recently asked Briggs — who he met two days before first starting chemotherapy — to marry him and she said yes.
“Just because I have cancer doesn’t mean I can’t do big things or live my life,” he said. “I don’t know where I would be if … I didn’t have someone to help me go through stuff.”
It’s a struggle at times, but White now appreciate the little things in life.
“Without a doubt, it’s been a roller coaster,” he said. “When it comes to cancer it does give you a completely new perspective on life, especially when they tell you it spread to your lungs. I’m focusing on just enjoying all my time with the people I’m around and living each day. That’s something I had never done before.”