Neil De Herrera, father of LAHS Varsity Softball players Maria and Abigail De Herrera with his wife Melinda. The team is holding a Colon Cancer Awareness Day Saturday during its doubleheader against Taos High School. Courtesy photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
A 47-year old man’s battle with Stage 4 colon cancer has inspired the Los Alamos High School Varsity softball team to host a Colon Cancer Awareness Day Saturday and raise funds for an American Cancer Society program called “Hope At Bat”. That man is Neil De Herrera, the father of two of the team’s players, sophomore Maria De Herrera and 8th grader Abigail De Herrera. Neil and his wife, Melinda, have three older children, Neil Jr., Aspen and Shaniah, all of whom graduated from Los Alamos High School.
The event coincides with the team’s doubleheader home games against Taos to be played at Hope Field in the Overlook Sports Complex in White Rock. The first game is at 10 a.m. and the second is at noon. Sen. Leo Jaramillo will throw out the first pitch for the 10 a.m. game.
Admission for the games is $5 per car and all proceeds from the concessions will go to the “Hope At Bat” program, a collaboration between Minor League Baseball and the American Cancer Society that is a fundraising initiative designed to help save lives, celebrate lives and lead the fight for a world without cancer.
Neil De Herrera was diagnosed with colon cancer in January 2021. He told the Los Alamos Reporter the diagnosis was pretty severe because the cancer had already metastasized.
“When it happened, we were all pretty numb. I was 46 years old, which is young for colon cancer. I hadn’t been feeling very well for the longest time. I didn’t have any energy whereas I was normally a high-octane person, always on the go doing something. I was losing motivation and just not feeling right but kept going,” he said. “I was having stomach issues also but you know how life gets busy with work and home and family. I ignored the symptoms for a couple of years. If I had listened to my body, there might be a different scenario now.”
De Herrera said he encourages people to pay attention to their bodies and go to a doctor if their instincts tell them there is something wrong.
“If you’re old enough to have a colonoscopy, make sure you get one scheduled,” he said. De Herrera also pointed out that adults who are at average risk for colorectal cancer used to start having regular colonoscopies when they turned 50 but The American Cancer Society’s newest guidelines recommend that colorectal cancer screenings begin at age 45. Colonoscopies not only detect the disease, but prevent cancer because precancerous polyps can be removed during the procedure.
After the diagnosis, De Herrera said it was a matter of finding care that would work for him and his family and that he started treatment at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Phoenix. He said many times when someone is diagnosed with colon cancer, the best option is to remove the affected part of the colon, however his diagnosis was so severe that doctors felt he needed to start chemotherapy immediately and surgery was not an option.
“It was amazing how quickly they jumped on it and within a week I was having chemo and have had it very two weeks since,” De Herrera said.
He noted that his life has been changed in many ways since his diagnosis.
“When someone is going through cancer it can be the darkest, sad, dreadful time, but for me seeing the generosity of friends, family, my employer and co-workers has been amazing. I have made friendships that will last a lifetime at the treatment center,” De Herrera said. “I have always had close relationships with my wife and kids but even those relationships have blossomed.”
He said sometimes he leaves his treatments with a heavy heart for people he encounters there who don’t have the same support system he has had.
“You don’t realize how many plans you have until something like this happens to you – plans for your kids graduating from high school, going to college, weddings, grandchildren – all things we think of as a given. My dad’s advice to me was, ‘Don’t change your plans, and that made so much sense. So I’ve continued doing the same things as always, doing things with my family, working on my projects, going to work,” De Herrera said. “Every day is a blessing even though some days I growl and grunt when I’m getting up.”
When he was first diagnosed, De Herrera said he told his family there were not going to be any “dragging faces”, that it would be business as usual.
“’I will never give up and I will fight to the end’, I told them, ‘and I expect the same from you’. We’ll cross that bridge when the time comes,” De Herrera said.
Donations may be made at Saturday’s event or by going to https://secure.acsevents.org/site/STR?fr_id=103402&pg=team&team_id=2626885