Walking against colon cancer: Joe’s story

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To help spread awareness for young-onset colon cancer, we asked Joe Opiela to share his family’s experience. This is their story, told from his perspective.

My 29-year-old son Adam had an abnormal blood test in February of 2021. He was working on his master’s degree in education at the University of Texas and had started to feel fatigued, sometimes throwing up intermittently. On April 2, he had a colonoscopy to rule out the remote possibility of cancer. That’s when we got the worst news.

Adam, pictured in November 2019

Stage IV colon cancer. The doctors in Texas told us that Adam had “months, not years” to live. My family was devastated. We had no warning. Adam had spent two weeks with us at home in Medfield, Mass., over the Christmas holiday and all seemed fine.

Adam took a medical flight to Boston to be admitted to Dana-Farber. We felt that getting him there was our best chance for hope. After almost three months of treatment after treatment, Adam passed away on July 25, 2021.

He showed extraordinary courage and spirit during his ordeal. One of his doctors at Dana-Farber, Nilay Sethi, told our family that he wanted to dedicate his team’s Jimmy Fund Walk to Adam’s memory.

Dr. Sethi had gotten to know Adam during his hospital stay. He told us that he could imagine being friends with Adam if he could have known him at another time. They shared a love of food and sports, and Dr. Sethi especially admired Adam’s kindness toward his caregivers and good-naturedness in the face of his adversity.

We were moved by Dr. Sethi’s compassion and inspiration to dedicate Team Sethi Lab: Gastrointestinal Cancer Research’s 2021 Jimmy Fund Walk to Adam. We decided to request donations in support of the team in lieu of flowers. More than $22,000 was donated in Adam’s memory.

Team Sethi Lab: Gastrointestinal Cancer Research participating in the 2021 Jimmy Fund Walk: Your Way presented by Hyundai

Dr. Sethi’s research at Dana-Farber focuses on what causes cells to evolve into colon cancer in order to better understand the alarming increase in early onset colon cancer among young people. We couldn’t think of a more worthwhile cause to honor Adam’s memory.

Written by Joe Opiela

Young-onset colorectal cancer has increased by 51% since 1994. This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we are spotlighting Adam’s story with the hope of encouraging others to spread awareness and take note of any signs and symptoms.

The Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai will return to the historic Boston Marathon® course on Sunday, October 2, 2022. Choose from four distances: 5K, 10K, Half Marathon, or Full Marathon, or walk your way virtually, wherever you are. Funds raised through the Jimmy Fund Walk support cancer research and care for children and adults at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Register for the Jimmy Fund Walk today and help defy cancer.