Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a group of
stories chronicling former CSU student David Hernandez’s struggle
David Hernandez has been to battle, and he has wounds to show
He has a 12-and-a-half-inch scar running from below his navel up
to his sternum and two more scars under his armpits, each about 5
But this was a different kind of battle; this one was against an
unseen, but deadly, foe – cancer.
“Every time I take a shower I see my scar,” said Hernandez, 20,
a former CSU student. “I can see the signs of the cancer. I can see
the sign of the fight and the survival.”
But the scars are more than unsightly blemishes on his upper
body. Each of the staples used to seal his lesions represents
closure to Hernandez’s almost yearlong fight with cancer.
It’s finally gone. The battle’s finally over.
“My doctor, who had been doing this for 30 years, said that it
was medically unheard of to have my cancer diminish the way it
did,” Hernandez said as he sat near the piano in the Lory Student
Center Sunken Lounge in mid-September.
Hernandez returned on Sept. 3 from New York City, where he had
been living for a little less than five months. He made the trip
expecting to undergo a difficult stem cell transplant at Memorial
Sloan Kettering Hospital, one of the nation’s top hospitals in
Before Hernandez left for New York, he was unsure how his cancer
would react at the new hospital.
“Pretty much I had my cancer on the ropes and they weren’t sure
if it was going to go down or if it was going to come back
swinging,” Hernandez told the Collegian in April.
After his first round of chemotherapy in New York, the remaining
cancer was eliminated and the transplant was no longer
The scars on his torso came from operations to make sure the
remaining tumors in his body were malignant; he had eight tumors in
his abdomen and about 10 in his lungs.
The abdomen surgery required doctors to remove his intestine
while they operated on his lymph nodes, and the lung surgery
required them to deflate each lung while they operated. After
doctors dissected the tumors, they found that the tumors were
benign, which meant Hernandez was cancer-free.
“So that meant I was one step closer to pretty much being done
with this,” he said.
Doctors originally diagnosed Hernandez with testicular cancer in
November 2003 after checking lumps in his testicle and chest. The
lumps had been there for about three months.
They found that the lumps were cancerous, and the cancer
eventually spread to other parts of his body.
After several unsuccessful chemotherapy cycles in Colorado,
Hernandez made the decision to travel to New York for the
transplant, despite the risk that it only has a one-in-three
After his cancer disappeared, he still had to decide whether to
go through with the transplant. If the cancer relapsed while he was
in Colorado, he would likely have to return to New York and have
the transplant anyway.
He decided to forgo the transplant and come back to Colorado. He
went through another round of chemo to be safe, doctors removed the
abdomen and lung tumors, and then he hopped on a train for a
two-day ride from New York to Denver.
Goodbye to an era
After beating cancer, Hernandez was able to look back at the
The train ride home gave him an opportunity to reflect on whom
he had become and where he wanted to take his life.
Part of that future includes plans to get a nursing degree from
Front Range Community College, where he will attend in the spring.
He said nurses can be indispensable to cancer patients.
“I don’t know if they’d realize how much they influenced your
life,” he said. “They make you feel like you’re the only patient
“And what other profession do you wear pajamas all day, right?
You can’t go wrong with that,” he added with a laugh.
But the change from sociology, his major at CSU, to nursing
wasn’t the only departure from his pre-cancer days: Hernandez also
decided to keep his hair short, rather than growing it out the way
he used to.
“I’ve grown so much from who that person was that I don’t even
want to look the same as that person,” he said.
For now, Hernandez works full time at Hartshorn Health Service
in the main reception area, which he enjoys immensely.
“It’s just nice to feel like I’m part of the campus again,” he
Even though he is not attending CSU, he is comfortable with
where he is in life.
The train ride from New York helped him physically and
emotionally leave his cancer behind as the U.S. countryside raced
“I felt like I was saying goodbye to an era,” he said.
“These are the best years of our lives, guaranteed,” Hernandez
As he sat at the table in the student center, Hernandez looked
at the yellow wristband adorning his right arm, which read,
Proceeds from the wristbands go to the Lance Armstrong
Foundation in the fight against cancer.
Along with the Red Cross logo he painted on his bag, the
wristband serves as a constant reminder of how he wants to live his
“I really like that mantra, too,” he said. “Don’t let your life
pass you by. Live life to the fullest.”
Daniel Hernandez, 23, David Hernandez’s brother, notices this
positive attitude every time he talks to his brother.
“Every time I talk to him, I call and he’s really, really
happy,” he said. “He’s excited just to be living a normal life
After beating cancer, David Hernandez hopes other people will
take advantage of the time they have on earth. Because his battle
was so hard-fought, it frustrates him to see people his age who
don’t have any goals in life.
That’s how he used to be, and he never will be that way
“I have the drive to live. I have the drive to honestly make so
many memories because you never know when I could get a call next
week and they’d say, “You have to go back to the hospital,'” he
Fight like hell
With cancer, relapse is possible at any time.
Hernandez gets blood tests and X-rays done every month to make
sure the cancer isn’t creeping its way back into his body.
“I’m holding my breath every month,” he said. “I feel like I
have a month-by-month lease on life.”
But he said he won’t let the fear of relapse hinder him.
“I’m in the clear, but you’re never out of the woods,” he said.
“But I’m not going to let that influence my life. I’m not going to
live in fear.”
Daniel Hernandez hopes people learn from his brother’s
“I just hope that people learn from David not to take their
health for granted,” he said. “You’re really not ever too young to
have to deal with something as serious as death.”
David Hernandez’s experience drastically changed his view of the
human spirit. Seeing young children deal with cancer at the Ronald
McDonald House, where he stayed in Manhattan, made him realize how
strong people can be.
“You see these kids who are just dealing with that at such a
young age, and they deal with it with such strength,” he said.
“It’s upsetting to see that, but you realize how strong people are
and how strong you have to be and how strong you can be if you have
He knows cancer will always affect people, but he takes comfort
in knowing people have the resolve to handle what comes their
“I’m not the first cancer patient. I’m not the last. It’s just
man’s will to survive and just fight like hell.”