Cancer survivor hopes to spread positivity at Scripps Encinitas event


For Dennis Baca, a cancer diagnosis did not mean all hope was lost. It was a chance for experts to fix a problem and for him to inspire others.

Last August, the tow truck driver began experiencing severe exhaustion, which he attributed to a persistent cough. He decided to visit a doctor, who ordered blood tests and soon after informed Baca he had colorectal cancer and had likely been unknowingly fighting it for about two years.

He underwent surgery the next day.

“My reaction was, ‘You found it, you know what to do with it, you know how to fix it,’” said 59-year-old Baca, who lives in Oceanside. “In the meantime, my wife was breaking down completely. With me still being upbeat about things, it helped both of us.”

Baca’s surgeon, Dr. Ujwala Rajgopal, general surgeon at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, commended Baca for his attitude.

“He had a remarkably calm demeanor, in spite of knowing that he had a large mass in his colon,” she said.

Baca is hoping to spread that positivity by sharing his story at a public cancer survivors day event June 24 at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas. The event takes place from 10 a.m. to noon at the Scripps Encinitas Conference Center, 354 Santa Fe Drive. It will include stories from survivors, presentations on advances in cancer care and research, complimentary brunch and live entertainment.

Baca said he wants people to “understand that [cancer] is not such a bad thing after all.”

“When people get told they have cancer, their day, all of a sudden, goes to crap,” he said. “I understand that. That’s the day someone said you had a problem, but they could also fix it. That’s actually not such a bad day. That’s a pretty good day in my world.”

Baca completed chemotherapy treatments about three months ago and is currently attending follow-up appointments and scans. Even through the treatment, he’s kept up an active lifestyle, going on six-mile hikes and picking up an amateur radio hobby as part of his volunteer work with Oceanside’s emergency response team.

He said he’s able to continue living his life, even with all of the appointments, because of his positive attitude.

“It helps kicks things down the road a lot easier and faster,” he said.

The hardest thing for him, he said, was following instructions to take six months off work. He hopes to return to work sometime this year.

Rajgopal encourages people to reveive colorectal cancer screening when they turn 50.

“Colorectal cancer is preventable if it is caught early, when it is a polyp,” she said. “Once a polypectomy is done, that particular polyp will never become cancer as it is resected. Colonoscopy is the gold standard. It is completed within half an hour. However, if it is not possible to get a colonoscopy done, any form of colorectal screening is better than no screening. There are a variety of other methods for screening with radiology virtual colonography and stool DNA tests. It is important to get the screening done and follow up on the results with the doctor.”