DENVER — Kacie Peters and Erik Stanley share many things. They’ve shared their lives with each other for the past 10 years. They share parental responsibilities for their 5-year-old son, Nate. They share a love of laughter, and adventure.
And, as of last month, they share the same stage IV colon cancer diagnosis.
“I was essentially crying at Anschutz,” said Erik Stanley, recalling the moment he had learned of his wife’s disease. “I remember distinctly turning on CNN coverage and they were playing Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World.’ And I just swore at the TV.”
Kacie and Erik met on New Year’s Eve in 2012. Kacie was visiting friends in Chicago, where Erik was living at the time. To this day, Kacie says Erik is still saved as ‘Erik Chicago’ in her phone.
That meeting started a long distance relationship, which blossomed into a marriage a year and a half later. The two embarked on a number of adventures together, and expanded their family to include their son. But, in between career moves and family vacations, Kacie started experiencing worrisome symptoms.
“I had a really hard time at work, and I was starting to get these pains in my upper abdomen,” Kacie recalled. “I was like, ‘Wow, stress hurts!’ Like, it was a problem.”
Kacie spent months in and out of doctors' offices and urgent care facilities - always with the same array of symptoms, which were explained away by more trivial causes. Medications and intravenous treatments would provide brief periods of relief, but every time, Kacie would find herself back seeking medical attention.
On the eight year anniversary of the day they met - New Year’s Eve 2020 - Kacie went to the hospital, this time for a colonoscopy. She awoke from the procedure to news that would change everything.
“They’re like, ‘Hi, you have cancer. We found cancer, and you need to consent for surgery right now,’” Kacie said. “They ended up taking out two-thirds of my colon that night.”
All of 2020 and 2021 were eaten up by chemo treatments and surgeries for Kacie. For Erik, the years were focused on caring for his wife and keeping life as normal as possible for their son, Nate. But that became harder to do, as subtle, familiar symptoms of his own started to appear. He found himself feeling tired constantly, and experiencing pain in his abdomen along with constipation. On Feb. 22, 2022, it culminated in the same devastating news Kacie and Erik had already received once before.
“It was a shock,” Erik said. “My oncologist… made it a point to say, ‘We are starting this right away. You’re going to stay in-patient because you’re getting chemo as fast as possible.'”
Neither Kacie, Erik, nor their doctors know if there’s a cause behind their cancers, or if it’s an incredible case of chance (1 in 100,000,000, they have been told).
There is no cure for stage IV colon cancer, and it has spread through both of their bodies. However, a cocktail of daily medications, along with hope in advancements in cancer treatment, give Kacie and Erik hope for more time to spend with their son, Nate. Nate, for his part, sees trips to the hospital as exciting, since he gets Jell-O and graham crackers every visit.
To help the family pay for medical expenses and family trips whenever they feel up to them, friends have started a GoFundMe to raise money. Erik and Kacie say they’ve been amazed by the outpouring of support the fundraiser has received, and they appreciate all of the donations. They hope for the day their cancer fight is behind them, and they can donate the remainder of the cash to another family in their same circumstances.
“I just want more time, and I want to enjoy the time that I have,” Kacie said. “And I don’t want to be thinking, ‘If I pay for this vacation now, what does it look like for hospice coverage in four years?’ It’s just so much faster than we ever though our life would go. And it’s hard.”
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and awareness is more important than ever as rates of the disease continue to rise among younger adults. Doctors and researchers are not yet sure why this is happening.