April 16, 2023

Ahead of Monday Return to Washington, Congressman Castro Opens Up to San Antonio Express-News About Cancer Surgery, Recovery

SAN ANTONIO – Earlier this week, ahead of his planned return to Washington on Monday, April 17, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) sat down with Elaine Ayala, a columnist at the San Antonio Express-News for his first extended interview since undergoing cancer surgery in late February. During the interview, which was recorded for Ayala’s Nosotros podcast, Castro spoke at length about his diagnosis and recovery to raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening and treatment. The interview also touched on recent political news and Castro’s immediate priorities upon his return to Capitol Hill.

The podcast can be heard in full here, with select excerpts below.

On the car accident that led to his diagnosis:

“I was in Spain because I was the honorary co-chair of the U.S. Spain Council...and it was the last night before I was supposed to fly back home to San Antonio.”

“We go to this dinner that was about 30, 40 minutes outside of Bilbao on a highway…On the way back, it was very dark…and [the driver] had a few other folks with us from the conference…He's probably going about 65 or 70 miles an hour. And I look right in front of me and see this boar, or javelina or something…He obviously had not seen it the driver and we just hit it straight on.”

“I was feeling okay, except that my hand was starting to swell up. And I was worried that maybe I had broken a bone or something…And they were asking if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said, well, I should probably go just in case.”

“We got there to this hospital, which to me seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. And they started treating me like a full-blown trauma patient. They put the headgear on me. They wanted to do an MRI with contrast, [which] I’d never had.”

“They do the MRI, and the doctor [she’s] about to let me go…And then she comes back about five minutes later and says, ‘My radiologist called, and he thinks that he sees these neuroendocrine tumors…when you get home, you need to go see the doctor.’”

On coming to terms with cancer:

“There's absolutely a panic. And you're struggling to figure out whether it's absolutely true whether there's a chance [the doctors are] seeing something that's not really there.”

“You know, growing up in South Texas as a Latino I grew up on the west side of town and diabetes is rampant in San Antonio and in south Texas. My grandmother had diabetes; my mom has diabetes. And so that's kind of the illness that you're trying to avoid… cancer was not really on my radar.”

“[After coming back to Texas], I had appointments here in San Antonio. I did end up at M.D. Anderson in Houston, and they do all these scans on you and tests, PET scans, MRI, CAT scans, all sorts of stuff. And they confirm that I have neuroendocrine tumors in my small intestine.”

Ayala: “Did you feel different, or did you not notice any health issue at all?”

Castro: “The doctor…he thinks that I probably had [the cancer] for about 5-10 years. People can walk around with these tumors for six, seven years and don't realize it until either [the tumors] grow so big that you go to the emergency room, or you’re in an accident or some other reason why you get an MRI with contrast. But looking back, I think [the cancer] was causing symptoms. I just didn't attribute it to that. And so, by December they said ‘Oh, we think you should have this surgery.’”

On his surgery and recovery:

“The [tumors] in the small intestine were removed. They didn't want to remove the ones in my liver because [the cancer is] on both sides of my liver. [The tumors are] small, but they’re present on both sides of my liver. So, you know, the liver can regrow itself. Ordinarily, if it was on one side, they would take it out and your liver would grow back…but because it's on both sides and it's still very small, they didn't want to take a chance. So that's where I am.”

“They took out like a third of my colon…And then they only took a small part of my small intestine. And then about 44 lymph nodes because 20 of them were cancerous. And then they took out my gallbladder and my appendix.”

Ayala: “And you don't need those.”

Castro: “Yeah, they're not essential.”

Ayala: “But there's a lot of things missing in there. So, once they sewed you back up, you were missing a whole lot of things.”

Castro: “That's the recovery  getting your body to function as close to normal again in this new kind of arrangement.”

Going forward, Congressman Castro will receive a monthly injection of Lanreotide, which is used to slow the growth of tumors. He does not anticipate needing additional surgery.

On Rosie Castro’s historic appointment to San Antonio City Council:

“I was so happy for her. It is kind of like a fairy tale ending for her in a way. You know, she was such an outsider when she ran in 1971. There were still no single-member districts.”

“And she had made a comment back then… she said, ‘I’ll be back.’”

“My regret is that I missed all of it because I was dealing with [surgery]. So, I need to go out to City Hall and see her office and visit her before her term is up.”

On his priorities for his return to Washington:

“My number-one job is to watch out for San Antonio. I have the main San Antonio [congressional] district. So, all the basics of education, jobs, health care – particularly as we’re looking at the budget coming up over the next few months and making sure that we continue to make progress on those things.”

“A few years ago, Congress reinstituted what were known as earmarks and [are] now called community projects. They got discontinued years ago because, quite honestly, they were abused. But now the process has been tightened up to try to prevent that abuse. And so, I've got about 15 different community projects that I'm trying to get funded for San Antonio. This is the third year now. [For Fiscal Year 2023,] our number was $15 million. Hopefully it'll be bigger this time.”

On recent gun violence and mass shooting incidents:

“I'm obviously in public service, but just as a person with young kids – I have two elementary school kids [who are] nine and seven, and to watch [mass shootings] is frightening…The idea that people would see these kids die…and still not be moved to consider change.”

“It makes the average person wonder what it's going to take to inspire elected officials to do something…It’s strange because you look at the numbers that say 88% of Americans support background checks. I wonder sometimes, though…who are these conservative Republican [politicians]? Who are they catering to? Where is the crowd that's demanding you not do background checks?”

On Donald Trump’s ongoing legal issues:

There are things that Donald Trump has done during his lifetime and even during and after his presidency that if an average person here in San Antonio did those same things you would be prosecuted. You would be arrested, you would be charged, you'd be prosecuted…I support making sure that no one, including Donald Trump, is above the law.”

“People have talked about how this is unprecedented. And how we may go down a slippery slope to where everybody's prosecuting ex-presidents and so forth. I really don't believe that's true.”

“[This is] a nation with very intense, very passionate, heated politics at times. And [the unwarrented prosecution of an ex-president] hasn't happened. The difference [here] is that you have a president who flouted the law in a way that other presidents had not. He behaved in ways that other presidents had not…I think there's a greater danger [in] not prosecuting that behavior…If a future president sees that you didn't do anything to hold Donald Trump accountable last time, then he or she can get away with whatever they want and then they're going to abuse the office. To me, that's a greater danger than, you know, some slippery slope that you may go down on prosecuting ex-presidents.”