‘That extra care:’ Greeley native beats cancer, uses experience to pursue career in oncology | MyWindsorNow.com

‘That extra care:’ Greeley native beats cancer, uses experience to pursue career in oncology

Catherine Sweeney
csweeney@greeleytribune.com

In 2008, as a freshman at the University of Northern Colorado, Josh Romero went to the doctor concerned about a bump.

Within 24 hours, he was diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer and under the knife. It had spread to his abdomen and lungs.

The next few months brought more surgeries, daylong chemotherapy sessions and their miserable side effects. But they also planted a seed.

Today, Romero is cancer-free and eying a research medicine degree at the University of Colorado Denver. One of his goals is to make cancer treatments a little less brutal for patients.

The Colorado State University biochemistry senior was recognized at one the school's football games this month.

Romero headed to UNC after graduating from University High School. Like most other college kids, Romero waited a few months to go to the doctor. That's why the disease had the chance to spread. He was expecting to get checked out and ended up in emergency surgery.

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"Everything just happened so fast," Romero said. "I didn't have any time to act."

In the coming months, he'd have another surgery in Aurora. Doctors had to go in and clean the cancer out from a cavity that ran from his sternum to his belly button.

He had to drop out of UNC, and within a few weeks, he was spending eight hours a day in the chemotherapy center at the UCHealth clinic.

Cancer is hard on the body, but so is the medicine that treats it. Even eating was rough. He was constantly nauseous, and even when he wasn't, food was never appetizing: The treatments kept him from tasting it.

The cancer spread quickly, but his doctors worked just as fast. Romero was in remission by the spring.

He was still dealing with the after-effects two years later. He and his wife, Vanessa, were expecting a daughter. Because Romero had to leave school, he was working in a distribution center, doing manual labor in sub-zero temperatures.

He realized he wanted to do more to provide for his soon-to-be family. Some of his friends and family had been firefighters, so he decided to go down that path.

It led him to Aims Community College's emergency medical training.

"I starting realizing I liked medicine," he said. "I liked how we can help people by using science."

He committed. He and his wife knew medical school was the way to go, and he needed to get his foot in the door.

He quit his job at the distribution center and took a job at UCHealth — in housekeeping. He was making half as much.

"That was scary for us," he said. "We just had a newborn daughter."

He wanted to use his EMT certification to start working in an ambulance but realized there were opportunities in nursing, he said. He became a certified nursing assistant and worked on patients who had experienced all kinds of trauma and disease.

"I'd see a lot of different units and how the unit functions," he said.

A CNA license on its own wasn't going to get Romero into medical school. He got into Colorado State University and started out as a chemical engineering student in 2014. But that wasn't going to get him to medical school, either.

"I want to be able to understand the basic science of biology and chemistry and be able to apply that to something at the clinic," he said. "I think that really drew me to biochemistry."

Romero will graduate with honors this spring.

He hopes to go through a program at CU Denver that will earn him an M.D. and a PhD, so he can be both a doctor and a researcher.

He's planning to go into oncology, even though he tried to keep his "bias" out of the decision.

But how could he cut out his experience with cancer? His doctors put so much work into curing his.

"I'd really like to give back to other patients," he said.

He wants to put the research work into making chemotherapy more efficient — and less miserable.

But he wants to work with patients in a hands-on way, too. He's especially prepared for it.

"I definitely think I can relate to a lot of aspects of being a patient," he said. "I think just understanding that you really need that extra care."

He talked about how cold it can get in hospital rooms when people are running in and out, conducting tests and checking your vitals. Seeing a doctor or nurse take two minutes to grab an extra blanket goes further than it seems.

"It can make a difference, having that one blanket over you," he said.

Moment to Shine

UCHealth honors patients and the support system that helped them through their hard time in a series called Moment to Shine. The patients are honored at highly visible events. The organization recognized Josh Romero, a cancer survivor, first-generation college student and future oncologist, at a recent Colorado State University football game. The Greeley native is about to graduate from CSU with a degree in biochemistry, and he plans to head to the University of Colorado Denver for medical school.