Riley Castro: "There's a reason I went through this. And now I have the chance to help prevent other people from receiving such a morbid diagnosis."
Riley Castro isn't your average cancer survivor.
Not only did she survive stage 4 colon cancer at 24, but she was 17 weeks pregnant when she got the diagnosis.
She believes the ordeal has given her purpose. And that purpose is being an advocate.
"There's a reason I went through this," Castro said. "And now I have the chance to help prevent other people from receiving such a morbid diagnosis."
Castro said doctors originally thought her abdominal pains were a twisted ovary. Because of her age, no one thought about colon cancer. But during exploratory surgery, doctors found that part of her intestine was dead. She was not only fighting for her life, but her baby's life. She was able to give birth to a healthy, baby girl in June 2015. And after her pregnancy, her daughter was by her side in chemotherapy treatments. One look at Castro and her daughter Bryelle now and you'd never know how hard they had to fight.
Now the Crestview mom is on a mission to share her story of survival.
"After my diagnosis, I jumped into the research," Castro said. "An organization called Fight Colorectal Cancer (Fight CRC) popped up and I applied for advocacy training."
Castro connected with other survivors and learned how to engage with different audiences. She also became involved with an organization called the Colon Club and their accompanying magazine, "On the Rise." Every time she shared her story and met other advocates, Castro said she became more inspired.
"Sometimes you get compassion fatigue, but then I'll get a random Facebook message from someone about how my story has inspired them," she said. "That makes it totally worth it."
Later this month, Castro will be one of 25 people featured in a rotating ad in Times Square honoring Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March. On March 17, Castro will be flying to Washington, D.C. to meet with representatives, share her story and make her case for better cancer care.
More importantly, she hopes her story will encourage others to be a strong advocate for their health and to keep fighting.
"You can make it out of this, you can survive," she said. "Turn that depression into anger and get mad. Get mad at the cancer, fight it, win. And then, come out and be there for other people. No matter what type of cancer, we all just lean on each other. You couldn't get better support and I love that I can provide that for other people that need it."