Robert Fuentes was already considering a move from Colorado back home to Temple, but in January 2019 he received news that pushed him to make the decision: he had Stage IV cancer.
Mr. Fuentes’ diagnosis was unusual—a rare form of cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma of the saliva glands with an uncommon origin in his sinus passages. “One day, I woke up and couldn’t breathe through my nose, and it wouldn’t stop bleeding,” he says.
Doctors in Colorado removed a tumor from his right nostril. However, their recommendation for chemotherapy and radiation proved difficult for Mr. Fuentes. The nearest cancer center was three hours away. “It just made sense to move back home,” Mr. Fuentes says. “My family and support system were here, treatment would be more accessible, and I knew I would be in good hands at the Vasicek Cancer Treatment Center.”
Time was of the essence, since the cancer was attacking his optic nerves and moving toward his brain. As soon as the Colorado snow melted, Mr. Fuentes traveled to Temple where he met with a team of doctors to explore his treatment options. “They worked with me to come up with a plan for chemo and radiation, because the other option was a surgery that would have left my face really disfigured,” Mr. Fuentes says.
Over the next several months, he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments. “I admit it was really difficult to get up and go to treatment every day,” he says. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a good place, but I had a lot of support and resources at Baylor Scott & White. I knew the cancer might be terminal, but they always made me feel like I had a fighting chance.”
Mr. Fuentes says the side effects of radiation therapy were particularly difficult for him. Due to the cancer’s location, the radiation targeted his head and neck, causing him to lose muscle in his face and the ability to swallow or breathe through his nose. He also lost his sense of taste and the ability to produce saliva.
“It was the little things that helped me get through it,” Mr. Fuentes says. “I always appreciated that even the people at the front desk smiled and knew my name. It truly helped me to be around positive people who made me feel like it was going to be ok. I choose to remember those people rather than the effects of radiation.”
Eleven months later, Mr. Fuentes received the good news that he was cancer-free. “I’m not quite back to my old self, but I’m definitely trending in a positive direction. It’s just going to take time,” he says.
“I was very fortunate, and I choose to live every day in honor of cancer victims who weren’t as fortunate,” Mr. Fuentes says. “There’s always going to be someone like me who needs this care. To those who donate to support this work, thank you for helping us survive.”