David Hernandez

Oct 042004
Authors: Kyle Endres

Editor’s note: This is the third installment of a group of

stories chronicling former CSU student David Hernandez’s struggle

with cancer.

David Hernandez has been to battle, and he has wounds to show

for it.

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

inches long.

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

success rate.

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

past year.

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

by him.

“I felt like I was saying goodbye to an era,” he said.

Living strong

“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.”

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