Where We Live: Help Travis Starnes fight cancer


PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Travis Starnes is a young man who is fighting to survive cancer that normally affects much older people.

At 34 years old, Travis is something of a medical rarity. He has stage 4 colorectal cancer — something doctors normally don’t even screen for until age 50. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most-common cancer in Oregon.

“Because of my age, this was not something that my doctor had ever talked to me about,” Travis explained. He was diagnosed in November after telling his doctor about unusual bleeding. The cancer has spread to his liver, requiring him to undergo numerous surgeries and chemotherapy.

“Mentally, it was tough — and it still is. I have good days and bad days, mentally,” he said.

Travis has taken time off from his pipe-fitting job. He has insurance but the bills are steadily piling up. His family, like many others, established a GoFundMe page and have been holding fundraisers to help Starnes with the costs.

His mom, Robyn Dunbar, said, “We just want to do all we can to bring that support in.” She and her husband, James Dunbar, own Portland’s Local Art Boutique. James created an original oil painting of Mt. Hood and all proceeds will go to Travis’s chemo. Other local artists made “Fight Cancer” shirts and hoodies that are available on Etsy.

Robyn and James will also be at the Vancouver Farmers Market when it opens later in March. James said they will donate 10% of all their sales toward Travis’s treatment.

The rate of colorectal cancer among younger people is increasing, according Travis’s doctor. Travis said he’d like to raise awareness about the symptoms and the benefits of early screening. He has a baby at home who is nearly 19 months old whom he wants to watch grow up.

“We all want the same thing,” he said. “We all want to see the other side of this.”

Follow Travis’s story

These are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society:

  • A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that’s not relieved by having one
  • Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
  • Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Colorectal cancers can often bleed into the digestive tract. Sometimes the blood can be seen in the stool or make it look darker, but often the stool looks normal. But over time, the blood loss can build up and can lead to low red blood cell counts (anemia). Sometimes the first sign of colorectal cancer is a blood test showing a low red blood cell count.

Some people may have signs that the cancer has spread to the liver with a large liver felt on exam, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), or trouble breathing from cancer spread to the lungs.  

Many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, or irritable bowel syndrome. Still, if you have any of these problems, it’s important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed. See Tests to Diagnose Colorectal Cancer.

American Cancer Society

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