A mother of two is warning others about the symptoms of colon cancer after she was diagnosed with the illness two separate times.
“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,” Sherri Rollins wrote in a new essay for Today.com.
Rollins said her father died of colon cancer in his early fifties, but that she didn’t believe the same could happen to her. “I probably should have had a colonoscopy, but I…was a healthy person and I’d always done checkups,” she wrote.
But in 2017 she went to the emergency room due to intense back pain and doctors found a lesion on her liver. “It turned out to be stage 4 colon cancer that had metastasized to my liver,” Rollis said, “I was diagnosed in early 2018.”
Rollins had to endure a gruelling treatment plan, but she stayed positive. “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,” she wrote.
To treat the cancer she had surgery and underwent one year of chemotherapy. After that, she was in remission for four years before more symptoms appeared. “I was getting regular scans and told they were clear, but I had that feeling again and I just knew something was wrong,” Rollins wrote. “My oncologist said, ‘I can assure you, you do not have cancer, you are hypersensitive.’ And I said, ‘No, I believe it is back.’” Her symptoms included weight loss, painful gas, and not feeling like she could finish when using the bathroom.
Eventually, she was diagnosed a second time. “In March 202, they called me back and said, ‘Upon further looking, you’re right,’” she wrote. This time, the lesion was in her rectum. It wasn’t where the first cancer had been, which is why her doctors originally didn’t catch it, they said.
Rollins wrote she immediately turned to her family. “I felt let down, but I just gathered my troops — my two boys and my husband,” she said. She underwent surgery as well as a type of radiation called intraoperative radiotherapy. During this treatment, a person receives radiation while they’re on the operating table.
Colon cancer begins with a growth of cells in the colon, which is the longest part of the large intestine. It typically affects older adults though it can strike at any age, per the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of the disease include change in bowel habits, such as frequent diarrhoea or constipation; blood in the stool; rectal bleeding; discomfort in the stomach, such as pain, cramps, or gas; weakness; tiredness; unintentional weight loss; and the feeling that you can’t empty your bowels all the way.
Age isn’t the only risk factor for colon cancer: people with inflammatory bowel disease, a family history of colon cancer, diabetes, obesity, and some other conditions are more likely to have it, per the Mayo Clinic.
Experts say colon cancer screenings should start around age 45 for people who have an average risk of the disease. People with an increased risk, however, need to start screening earlier.
The cancer can be diagnosed after a colonoscopy, but blood tests may also be involved if a doctor suspects the disease. Chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery are used to treat the disease.
Rollins said that she hopes other people learn they have to advocate for their health when they think something’s wrong. “Being your own advocate doesn’t mean you are a disgruntled patient,” she wrote. “Now that I’ve been affected by this disease and the fight to save myself, I am just so appreciative.”
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