Colorectal cancer can be a devastating diagnosis. Sherri Rollins has now been through it twice, but was determined to get the right treatment and stay positive. She had a gut feeling something was wrong each time, even though doctors initially told her she was fine. The stay-at-home mom, who asked that her age be described as “approaching 50” and lives in Salisbury, North Carolina, shares her symptoms, story of resilience and advice for other patients with TODAY.com.
I’ve always been a private person, but I said If I get through this and I live, I want to tell people what happened and inspire them to be their own advocate.
In 2017, life was normal except that I was having a lot of back pain. I went to the emergency room and a scan showed a lesion on my liver. A local gastroenterologist said it was nothing to worry about and said we’d check it in six months.
But I was thinking that may be wrong, and I always go by what my gut is telling me. I went to another doctor who said, “Let’s just go and do an MRI.” It turned out to be stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to my liver. I was diagnosed in early 2018.
My father had colon cancer and passed away in his early 50s. I probably should have had a colonoscopy, but I didn’t believe it would happen like that to me. I was a healthy person and I’d always done checkups.
When the doctor said “metastasized,” I remember thinking, “They’re going to take this out, I’m going to take the medicine and everything’s going to be fine.” I never felt doomed.
I did a year’s worth of chemotherapy and underwent surgery.
I was in remission for four years — so I thought. You feel like you’ve got it beat. But then I began having symptoms. I lost weight. When I would use the bathroom, I would feel like I had not finished. I had painful gas.
I was getting regular scans and told they were clear, but I had that feeling again and I just knew something was wrong. My oncologist said, “I can assure you, you do not have cancer, you are hypersensitive.” And I said, “No, I believe it is back.”
In March 2022, they called me back and said, “Upon further looking, you’re right. There is a lesion in your rectum. It was farther down than the original cancer. That’s why we didn’t see it because we weren’t looking for it there.”
I felt let down, but I just gathered my troops — my two boys and my husband.
The tumor was larger than expected, and it had gone outside the colon and spread into the pelvic floor. I saw several doctors about what to do next. One wanted to take the whole colon out. Another said I’d have a colostomy bag my whole life.
I really liked a gastrointestinal surgeon at UNC Health, who told me the tumor could be removed and the ileostomy bag would be temporary. As part of the treatment, I also underwent intraoperative radiotherapy, which delivers radiation while you’re on the operating table. The tumor is removed and then they hit the area with radiation to hopefully kill any cancer cells that were left behind. I also had more chemotherapy.
After three months, the ileostomy was reversed. It has been a little slower recovery this time than it was the first time, but I am a happy person by nature. It’s only been a year, I’ll get there. I’m getting out more and doing more.
I did things a step at a time. You work the problem — you go to the next thing and then the next because if you look at the big picture, it’s so overwhelming. Just face one problem at a time — that’s how I manage things. You can’t look at it far out, a year or five years from now. You just have to face the next step.
Let’s say there’s a 5% chance that people make it out of this in a year. But somebody made it out because it’s not a 0% chance. Somebody beat all the odds. Why not you? Why not me?
I had a lot of issues with my hands because of having had so much chemo in such a short amount of time. I have a lot of neuropathy, but you just keep pushing forward because what option do you have? I’m still here and that’s what matters at the end of the day. I’d rather be here and face anything. I’ve got those two boys to give me all the hope in the world. They are my biggest cheerleaders.
Now that I’ve been affected by this disease and the fight to save myself, I am just so appreciative.
I hope that even if one person makes their case for more treatment options and it saves them, then that is why I am speaking out. Being your own advocate doesn’t mean you are a disgruntled patient.
This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.
This article was originally published on TODAY.com