Spencer Vereecken is just a really nice guy. A loving husband and father of two, Spencer is a hardworking man of faith who loves Michigan sports, the Peloton and golf.
It was by being such a nice guy, that led Spencer to find out he had colorectal cancer.
A friend of his had liver cancer and Spencer was working towards being a living donor. He went through all the testing including an MRI and while he found out that he was not a match, they did find a spot on his liver that would bear further scrutiny.
They watched the spot over the next year, and it revealed to be just a cyst. On the final visit to review the scans, Spencer mentioned an ongoing nuisance in his abdomen. An active athlete, Spencer assumed that he had developed a hernia. His doctor would order additional tests.
The next morning on his way to a meeting, Spencer received a call from his wife Kirsten, a nurse at the hospital. She had read his results and told him, “You need to turn around, I think you have cancer.”
In the CTs that followed, a mass the size of a softball was found in his colon, and surgical plans were made to have it removed.
Spencer tried to go back to life as normal. Two days later while talking to a coworker, he dropped to his knees with a sudden rush of abdominal pain. The tumor in his abdomen had burst. He drove himself to the hospital where he met his wife, who had coordinated a room with his doctor.
When he awoke from emergency surgery, his life was changed. He had a massive incision that had been stapled shut, the tumor had been removed and sent for testing, and he had a temporary ileostomy. He would stay in the hospital for over a week and then return immediately to have a port-a-cath inserted so they could begin chemotherapy as soon as possible.
He was a stage III colorectal cancer patient.
It was two days before his 36th birthday and his wife was eight and a half months pregnant.
Chemotherapy would follow in the summer of 2019. His chemotherapy infusions were typically on a two-week schedule. Spencer and Kirsten were able to wait for an “in between” week off of chemo when he would be feeling better to induce labor, so he could be there for the birth of his daughter, Reagan.
Despite a successful procedure, there was an additional worry. The tumor in his colon had burst and material from the tumor had spread into his peritoneal cavity. This could have led to a significant spread of cancer. Had that been the case, Spencer would have had to undergo HIPEC therapy (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy), a treatment wherein the peritoneal cavity is filled with a heated chemotherapy to attack any spread in the peritoneum.
Later in the fall, around Halloween, Spencer received the good news that the cancer had not spread. Soon afterward he would have another procedure to reverse his ileostomy.
Then came Covid.
The general panic of Covid was amplified in the cancer community, especially among those in active treatment. As Spencer puts it “We, were freaked…” Kirsten was still working at the hospital and Spencer had returned to work (he actually never missed work through chemotherapy) and both were concerned about the effects of recent chemotherapy on his immune system. It was a tense time, but like everything else, they got through it together.
Spencer credits faith and family for getting him through his time with cancer. He credits his marriage and being a cancer survivor with galvanizing both. “Faith, Family, Positivity and Prayer” were his mantra throughout and remain so to this day. And he is anxious for the day five-year-old Jack and three-year-old Reagan are old enough to join him on the golf course.
Spencer likens his time in cancer treatments and his advocacy to the New Testament story of Jesus and the Apostles on the Sea of Galilee. In the story retold in multiple gospels, the Apostles are at sea in the middle of a storm. Jesus approaches, walking on water, calms the storm and tells them, “Be not afraid.”
Cancer can create a storm in a patient’s life. The advocate reaches out and tries to calm that storm and uses their own example to say, “Be not afraid.” To someone just diagnosed with cancer, calming that storm can seem impossible. Like walking on water.