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Devils Lake Journal - Devils Lake, ND
  • 19-year-old cancer victim says 'life happens'

  • If you think Zach Bourland hasn’t handled a recent agonizing bout with colon cancer with some humor, consider his assortment of T-shirts, with pithy sayings like “Colon cancer is a real pain in the butt” and “Semi colon” — he's had part of his colon removed.

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  • If you think Zach Bourland hasn’t handled a recent agonizing bout with colon cancer with some humor, consider his assortment of T-shirts, with pithy sayings like “Colon cancer is a real pain in the butt” and “Semi colon” — he's had part of his colon removed.
    Then there's this one, black with white lettering: “It is what it is.”
    “Life happens,” said the 19-year-old from Springfield, Ill., shrugging his shoulders. “There are bumps in the road. Some bumps look like mountains, but you have to keep pushing.”
    Humor has been a necessity. Bourland says his Catholic faith has also deepened because of the experience. But there have been moments over the last 10 months when the former high school football player admits he has broken down and “screamed my lungs out.”
    Family and friends will gather June 10 for a fundraiser for Bourland, who recently had his last chemotherapy session.
    Bourland meets with surgeons June 14 to reverse a temporary ileostomy. After the procedure, he hopes to finish his studies at Lincoln Land Community College in Springfield, return to work at Crowder Corp., which sells and services commercial and industrial refrigeration, and begin planning his 2013 wedding to his fiancee, Sami Stewart.
    It was last summer when things came unhinged for Bourland.
    On July 14, he lost control of his motorcycle on a patch of loose gravel and broke his clavicle. He had to have a plate inserted into his shoulder, but wearing a helmet, he said, saved his life.
    In the weeks after the accident, Bourland experienced stomach problems and blood in his stool. He chalked it up to old football injuries and put off going to the doctor.
    When Bourland finally did go, an early diagnosis pinned it as Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the digestive tract. But additional testing eventually revealed a different diagnosis: colon cancer.
    Bourland underwent two rounds of chemo. He had radiation along with the first round of chemo in the fall. For the next eight years, Bourland will have blood work and blood scans every three months. He will also get an annual colonoscopy for the rest of his life.
    “The doctors don't expect it to come back,” he said, “but who knows? I didn't expect to get colon cancer at 19.”
    It was a curveball no one saw.
    The 6-foot-2, 265-pound Bourland helped anchor one of his high school’s best football campaigns in 2009. He threw the shotput and discus on the track team and was a competitive weightlifter.
    Bourland also excelled academically, especially in math and science. After Lincoln Land, he hopes to attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville and major in land surveying.
    Page 2 of 2 - Peter Walls, who taught Bourland chemistry in high school, said Bourland worked hard in class and was one of the most respectful students he's ever had.
    “He always came into class with a smile on his face,” Walls said.
    “I think there's a reason for everything, and maybe this is God's way of shining through Zach.”
    Sami Stewart, 20, a certified nursing assistant, says Bourland's cancer experience has her eyeing a career as an oncology nurse.
    “It made me realize I could step up to the plate if I needed to,” said Stewart. “My mom (Michelle) comforted me a lot of nights when I came home a mess.
    “It’s been really hard, but (Zach and I) can get through anything as long as we can do it together.”
    Bourland admits a lot of lives have been put on hold because of the cancer, but a lot of positive has come out of it, too, like the coalescing of family and friends and a wife-to-be.
    "My mom (Connie) and Sami took it a lot harder than I did," said Bourland. "But family and friends have been there. Sami's been my nurse, and I love her for it.
    "Now, hopefully, things can go back to normal."
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