Texas cancer survivor runs marathons for cause


He became Mr. March, showing the scar that bisects his abdomen in the 2012 Colondar, a calendar of people younger than 50 living with colorectal cancer.

Rojas is one of thousands of people diagnosed annually before age 50 with colon cancer, and one of 13 this year to reveal battle wounds in the calendar's pinup photos. The goal is to put a face on the 63 percent increase in rectal cancers in their age group. It's produced by The Colon Club, an online resource for people diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

"Being diagnosed at 32 is shocking," said Rojas, a petrochemical refinery inspector. "It blurs life."

Each of the Colondar's survivors' scars are reminders of surgery to remove tumorous parts of their colon.

It has taken Rojas three years to recover after having 19 inches of his colon removed. It followed weeks of treatments, the aggressive surgery and the pain, discomfort and lack of bowel control that trapped him in his office despite regimented diets and exercise.

"I was going through such a hard time," Rojas said, "I didn't want anybody else to go through it."

That was when he registered with Get Your Rear in Gear, an organization that promotes running events to raise money to help cancer patients lacking medical funds.

Following his wife, Carmen's, encouragement to start walking on a treadmill in their garage for 20 minutes daily, the couple walked their first half-marathon in March 2010.

"We finished," Carmen Rojas said. "He finished. I was so proud of Roger."

Then they jogged the next one, gathering sponsorships and raising $1,300 for the organization.

Rojas has lost about 80 pounds and has several half-marathons under his belt -- the most recent was Sunday in San Antonio.

"I hated running in high school," the H.M. King High School graduate said. "Now it has made a major change in my life."

Cancer runs in his family.

Rojas knew he needed a colonoscopy, he said. His dad had a benign grapefruit-sized colon tumor, and his aunt died from colon cancer that had spread into her liver.

However, as age 30 came and went, despite being significantly overweight, he felt great, Rojas said.

So he put off a checkup.

Two years later, painful constipation led him to the doctor.

Rojas was diagnosed Oct. 7, 2009, with stage III rectal cancer, the second leading cancer among Hispanic men.

"It taught me to look at life differently," Rojas said, "and realize that I'm just happy to be here."

Cancer upset his home life.

His oldest son, Frank, 13, freaked out after hearing at school that people with cancer die.

"It really upset me," Frank said. "I was sad and prayed every single day, even in school."

His younger brother, Adrian, 8, just knew he couldn't climb on Daddy anymore. Their sister Cristie, now 4, was an infant, so she doesn't remember her dad before cancer.

Rojas is in remission, and he remains focused on helping others with cancer who don't have medical funds.

He receives checkup procedures every three months and tries to live the creed of the organization he promotes: keeping his rear in gear, he said.

"My son told me that cancer changed my life," Rojas said. "And he's right, but not in the way some people might think. It made me stop and look at my life, and now I live a better life than I was living."

Copyright © 2022 KTRK-TV. All Rights Reserved.