Amanda Sherwood Roberts
November 23, 1974-January 1, 2002
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 1999 at age 24 with stage III colon cancer
Amanda Sherwood Roberts was a few months pregnant with her second child when she starting having some strange symptoms. Abdominal pain, bloating, unusual bowel habits and rectal bleeding became part of her daily life. Amanda knew that something was very wrong, but didn’t know what.
She was sick for about six months, but because she was so young nobody thought it could possibly be colorectal cancer; her problems were more likely being caused by her pregnancy. If she had been 50, she probably would have been sent for a colonoscopy immediately. Instead, she waited six months and fought with her insurance company to finally get the colonoscopy that revealed stage III colon cancer. At that time, her daughter was three years old and her son was four months old.
Amanda used to say that that if she could tell everyone in the world what had happened to her, she knew it would eventually save someone else’s life. After she was diagnosed, she willingly told her story to family, friends, news crews, and pretty much anyone in the grocery store line who would listen. Even while she was extremely ill, Amanda was getting the message out that anyone can get colorectal cancer. After she died, her friend Molly McMaster and her cousin Hannah Vogler created the Colossal Colon® in her memory and started The Colon Club.
If Amanda were here today she would tell you, “Don't let what happened to me happen to you. Colorectal cancer doesn't care who you are, who you love or what you do. We all know colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and is very treatable if you catch it early. So, know your own body, know the symptoms of colorectal cancer, know your family history of colorectal cancer and polyps, know the age at which you should be tested, and BE PERSISTENT WITH YOUR DOCTORS if something isn’t right!”
Amanda was Caroline and William’s mother, Jeff’s wife, Martha and Bernie’s only daughter, Nicholas’s only sister, one of 28 cousins, and best friends with Michalene and Angelia. She was beautiful and vibrant and stubborn and funny – and she died at 27 of colon cancer.
Her family and friends hope that others can picture Amanda not just as a sickly cancer patient, but as a vivacious person who loved her life and family and who truly made the most of that every single day. They are also hopeful that by sharing her story it will save someone’s life.
William Christopher Throop
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2006 at age 43 with stage III rectal cancer
Bill Throop, 45, of Little Rock went to see his family doctor in November 2006 after a single occurrence of seeing bright red blood in a bowel movement. Although he thought it might have been a hemorrhoid, “I met a man through my work who had bleeding for almost a year and ignored the symptoms; he ended up having cancer and then a colostomy,” said Bill. “I was concerned enough to go get it checked out because of his story.”
His caution proved to be the correct action; the story Bill heard likely saved his life. At 43, Bill got a colonoscopy to find the cause of his bleeding and learned that he had stage III rectal cancer. Although several other family members have died of cancer, nobody in Bill’s family has been diagnosed with any form of colorectal cancer. In December 2006, he had low anterior resection with coloanal anastomosis surgery. Radiation five days a week for five weeks followed, as well as chemotherapy with Xeloda and Oxaliplatin. He was originally scheduled for six months of therapy, but had trouble with his white blood cell count and so the treatment took much longer than expected.
At St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center and Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), Bill was under the care of family doctors Blake McGowan and Mark Dyer, gastroenterologist Dean Kumpuris, oncologist Joseph M. Beck III, and surgeons Charles Crocker and Lee Raley. Additionally, he was treated at UAMS by Dr. Ron Robertson to repair a ventral incisional hernia, a fairly common complication that can result from rectal cancer surgery. Bill is now cancer-free and involved in a clinical trial.
He says that the hardest thing about having colorectal cancer is “going from someone who was never sick, never had to go to doctors, and jogging six miles a day five days a week to enduring three surgeries and going to multiple doctor visits every week.” He also admits that it’s the uncertainty. “After seeing both of my parents with different cancers, I think having ANY cancer is difficult.”
His attitude has helped him persist through the entire experience. “I don’t see myself in the sick role, and I refused to let the treatments rule my life. They were difficult, but I chose to not let the chemo get me down,” Bill said. “I tried to maintain my life and work schedule to the best of my ability during this time. I was fortunate to have a flexible job and could work from home when needed.”
The optimistic Bill wants to tell others, “it is NOT an old person’s disease,” and “never ignore symptoms.” Bill lives in Little Rock and is Executive Vice President at Curtis H. Stout, Inc.
Hometown: Conway, AR
diagnosed in 2003 at age 27 with stage II colon cancer
After a month of abdominal pains, getting sick at work and constant fatigue, Chris DeVasier was urged by his boss to take his annual physical a bit early. His bloodwork showed that he was extremely anemic, and doctors had to determine where he was losing the blood. The diagnosis came after a colonoscopy — a cancerous tumor “the size of a Red Bull can” was in his colon.
With a biology degree from Southern Arkansas University, Chris was acutely aware of what was going on with his body, and many of his close friends were in the medical field. “It happens so fast that you don’t have time to grasp it all,” said Chris. “Instead of doctors overwhelming me, it was really helpful to be able to talk to my friends and have them explain things in terms I understood.” The weekend before his surgery, Chris got all of his friends together and had a big party. Four days after his diagnosis, surgery removed six feet (all but one foot) of his colon. His oncologist said it was Chris’s decision whether to go through chemotherapy or not. Chris thought, “I’m 27 and single right now, but one day I’ll be married and have kids. If I don’t take all the precautions I can and I have a recurrence, I’ll kick my own butt.” Immediately after surgery, the young cancer patient began chemotherapy with 5FU, Leucovorin and Camptosar at CARTI in Conway.
He made it about halfway through treatment when he decided to stop. It was physically tough, leaving him nauseous and vomiting all the time, but it was the mental stress that made him stop. Chris had always been a healthy, high-energy person who worked out regularly and continued to do so. But he was getting exhausted and felt so sick that he quit chemo to “feel normal again.” Then he started to think about all the people who were worse off, and he decided to complete his full treatment.
Chris, the oldest of three, has no family history of colorectal cancer, and genetic testing has shown that he has no known genetic abnormalities. He said, “I was told that colon cancer was the most treatable cancer. This made me feel that out of all the cancers to have, I guess I was glad it was colon. I learned not to ignore things my body was trying to tell me, and I learned to not sweat the small stuff and live every day to its fullest.”
At 31, Chris has been cancer-free since August 2004. He’s been able to get on with his life working for Buckman Labs selling industrial chemicals in the paper industry. Chris is a part of The Colon Club because “when I was going through surgery and chemo, I had nobody to talk to or relate to who was my age. If I have the chance to ease the mind or lift the spirit of just one person who is fighting colorectal cancer, it would be a great honor.” He wants to share his message: “Colorectal cancer is not necessarily the end of the road, because it is treatable and preventable.”
Hometown: Conway, AR
diagnosed in 2000 at age 43 with stage II rectal cancer
It was one Saturday in late August 2000 when Dusty Weaver experienced a dark, tarry-looking stool. From watching a colorectal awareness campaign conducted by a Little Rock TV station in the early 1980s, he recalled that blood in the stool was a possible cancer indicator.
Three days later, Dusty consulted with his primary care physician who did a digital rectal exam and fecal occult blood test which turned out positive. He was referred to a gastroenterologist who performed a colonoscopy about six weeks later. Dusty had no other symptoms or previous family history of colorectal cancer, but was diagnosed with rectal cancer following lower anterior colon resection surgery.
He endured four six-week blocks of 5FU and Leucovorin. Between blocks two and three, Dusty received 25 radiation treatments to his pelvis. He was cared for by family doctor Michael Carter, gastroenterologist Kevin Heath, medical oncologist Sue Tsuda, radiation oncologist Brian Imamura and surgeon Homer Fleisher. Dusty was treated at Conway Regional Medical Center, CARTI Conway, and Conway Hematology-Oncology. His last treatment was six-and-a-half years ago, and all of his post surgery CT scans have been negative. “I knew very little about cancer other than it killed people and the chemotherapy was very rough — so little that I did not know what questions to ask,” said Dusty.
“As difficult as it is to be told you have cancer, the three months following my diagnosis were even more difficult. I think this is when it started to sink in that I had cancer. It got me thinking about spiritual matters. Such things as my trust in God to do what is best for me moved me from being interested in Sunday school discussion to being challenged to actually live what I believed. A tragic event like cancer can be used for good. There is both great joy and great sorrow in cancer,” he reveals. Dusty also points out that colorectal cancer can be preventable if you follow screening guidelines and are aware of symptoms. It is preventable, treatable and beatable.
At 50, Dusty is getting on with his life and works for Conway Corporation as a senior laboratory technician performing water tests at a wastewater treatment plant. He also makes a difference as Grassroots Coordinator for the national nonprofit C3: Colorectal Cancer Coalition, www.FightColorectalCancer.org. This rectal cancer survivor’s focus on advocacy began in 2003, when he realized that as a voter and a survivor, he had the ability to move his elected officials to take action. He has worked tirelessly on state and national levels fighting the war against colorectal cancer. Dusty is a nationally-recognized and award-winning colorectal cancer advocate. He writes for C3’s “Advocacy Update” and mentors its growing number of advocates.
Dusty has certainly influenced those who matter most to him. His mother had a colonoscopy that detected a non-cancerous polyp – and after that discovery, his youngest brother also went through a colonoscopy which found a polyp.
September 4, 1954-February 2, 1999
Hometown: Hot Springs, AR
diagnosed in 1997 at age 43 with stage IV colon cancer
Elane Smith loved to work outside – gardening, planting flowers, riding her horse, helping with the family’s cattle, or grooming an orchard. “She once went after a calf in the creek with her horse in the middle of winter and fell in the water,” said her daughter Roseana, of Mesquite, TX. “She saved the calf and named it Snow! She had the best laugh and loved to make others laugh.”
However, it was Elane’s faith that was the most prominent aspect of her life, which she showed by teaching Sunday school and serving in youth ministry and on mission trips, such as going to Honduras with a dental team. Her daughter’s memories are a testament to her commitment to “serving the Lord with all of her being. She shared Christ with all of those with whom she developed a relationship.”
At age 43 in October 1997, Elane’s spirit was tested when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. Like the majority of other colon cancer patients, she had absolutely no family history of the disease. She did have common symptoms of colorectal cancer – nausea, blood in her stool, difficulty with bowel movements – but they could be written off to other causes. When it was finally discovered, a softball-size tumor was blocking 98% of Elane’s colon. The tumor was removed and a port was inserted for chemotherapy. She was treated at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, National Park Medical Center, and St. Joe Hospital under the guidance of Dr. David Rogers, her family physician, gastroenterologist Dr. Dick Dunn and oncologist Dr. Timothy Webb. “All of her doctors and nurses knew of her love for the Lord and the trust she put in Him to take care of her and her family,” said Roseana.
Daughters aren’t supposed to outlive their mothers, but Elane passed away in February of 1999. “The hardest part was watching our mom fade away; the vomiting was probably the worst,” Roseana recollects. “What made it hard was knowing that colon cancer is very treatable and curable if you respond to the signs and have regular screenings. By the time we discovered the tumor in her colon, it had already metastasized to her liver.” Her doctors worked for many months to treat this, but were not able to save her life.
Elane didn’t focus on her cancer while she was alive and didn’t talk much about it with her family or friends. But they now urge others: “Don’t ignore the signs.”
May 1, 1976-July 18, 2004
Hometown: Bentonville, AR
diagnosed in 2002 at age 26 with stage IV colon cancer
In 2002 Heather Ridley-Fleeman started having serious stomach problems. She was put on medicines to control irritable bowel syndrome, but nothing helped. Heather continued to have weight loss and pain, and finally a colonoscopy was ordered and a mass was found her colon. She was referred to a surgeon and an oncologist. Heather had stage IV colon cancer.
MD Anderson worked with Highlands Oncology Group in Bentonville, AR to give Heather the best treatment possible. After chemotherapy, Heather returned to MD Anderson for an evaluation. Heather was told that her cancer was progressing like superglue encasing her abdomen, and that they did not have anymore treatment options to offer her. Surgery was not even an option. Heather was then accepted into a clinical trial.
The clinical trial started in January and ended in March 2004. Heather finished four cycles of the research drug, but there was very little progress and she was dismissed from the program. Even through her pain, Heather was concerned for other people, especially the patients in the clinic. She once said that everyone should be given the chance to be in a clinical trial. Sometimes this is all a person has left because it gives them hope.
Heather Renee Ridley-Fleeman, lost her battle with colon cancer on July 18th 2004, at age 28. She was Kris’ beautiful daughter, Angela’s sister, loving wife to Bart and a friend to all who knew her. Family and friends were a special part of her life. Heather’s humor and wit during her illness will always be remembered by those who loved her. Heather’s memory and dedication to others lives on in the Heather Ridley-Fleeman Battle for HOPE, a family event that includes a 10K run, 5K run/walk, 1 mile family fun walk and kid’s races. www.heathersraceforhope.com
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 1992 at age 38 with stage I colon cancer
Jannie Cotton was familiar with colon issues because she had annual upper endoscopy procedures after an ulcer developed in graduate school. In 1991, she had lost seven family members in less than a year and assumed her stress was causing this old ulcer to bleed.
After two mornings of finding an enormous amount of blood after going to the bathroom, Jannie realized there was probably more to it than hemorrhoids. Dr. Alonzo Williams asked her if it was bright or dark red blood, and her response of “dark” led to an appointment the next day when he also learned she had lost 10 pounds. Her colonoscopy the following day showed several polyps that were sent to a lab. “He must have suspected something because they called me within 24 hours with the results.” Colon cancer. “I was in total shock! I could not believe what he had just said.”
“I was so young and had not heard of anyone my age having colon cancer. I cried for about 15 minutes and then started praying because I knew that God could turn my situation around.” Her three children and family immediately gathered to pray at her house. By Friday of that week she was in surgery; it was Valentine’s Day 1992. Complications extended her hospital stay to over a month, and she even needed a feeding tube. Many doctors and interns visited the unique patient who had gone against the statistics and age range for colon cancer.
“I was in so much pain that I asked God to take me so my family would not see me suffering for so long,” she admits. “After thinking that for a few hours, I regained my senses and starting praying and fighting for my life. I had three beautiful daughters to take care of, and I did not want them motherless.”
Three years later, she experienced that same level of pain, which left her crawling on the floor. Adhesions from the first surgery had grown into the intestines and caused a blockage. “Here I was having another surgery, and was in the hospital over two weeks. It was horrible, but I kept my faith” Jannie said. The strong-willed woman resolved to stay positive despite the circumstances. “It seemed like it was one thing after another.” Since then Jannie has had colonoscopies every six months to a year and is glad to say she hasn’t had to undergo any surgeries in 10 years. “I am so grateful.” Counting her blessings, she has done her part to maintain a healthy lifestyle by changing her eating habits, exercising more and relishing in the power of positive thinking.
While Jannie had another polyp in 2007, it was not cancerous. However she was diagnosed as severely anemic and admitted to the hospital for a blood and iron transfusion. Her body that had already endured so much was now extremely deficient of vitamin B-12 and iron, likely because what is left of her colon will not absorb the B-12 and iron she needs. “I was never alerted to that,” said Jannie, who now has B-12 shots two to three times a week. “I want to share this part of the story so others will know to get checked for this and not end up passing out or having other complications.”
Jannie’s aunt is in her 80s and beating the disease, and another aunt in her mid-60s is also dealing with it. “People are so ashamed to talk about it, but I tell my story to family members, church members, co-workers and friends. And since I am blessed to be alive, I now celebrate Valentine’s Day as my second birthday!”
September 1, 1958-August 21, 2006
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2005 at age 47 with stage IV rectal cancer
In the fall of 2005, Jeff Willis was diagnosed with stage IV rectal cancer that had spread to his liver and lymph nodes. He was just 47 years old. Jeff had been experiencing cramping and a feeling of fullness, and his doctor scheduled a colonoscopy. Like so many others, he had no family history of the illness to warn him about the disease that would eventually take his life.
After he was diagnosed, Jeff began multiple treatments, eventually seeing doctors at Little Rock Hematology Oncology Associates, Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute (CARTI), Baptist Medical Center, Medical Cities Dallas and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. His physicians included gastroenterologist Glenn Davis, oncologist Lawrence Mendelsohn in Little Rock and surgeon Walton Taylor in Dallas.
His widow Margaret says, "Jeff was such a fighter — he was not going to give up on the treatments and he did everything on this earth to beat the disease.” Jeff’s treatment regimen included radiation, liver surgery in April 2006, and all of the currently available chemotherapy options. He even had a hepatic pump that pumped chemotherapy drugs directly into his liver. Margaret had to watch him undergo the painful treatments and said he had drastic side effects of the radiation.
To the sorrow of his loved ones, Jeff lost his fight on the 21st of August in 2006. “There was a swift decline in his health,” Margaret said, adding that he went “from an active, vibrant man to death in less than one year. One weekend he was playing 27 holes of golf and the next he had his first chemo treatment — it was unreal to us.” The widow and mother of three cautions others that colorectal cancer “can happen to anyone. Do not be afraid to second guess your general practitioner and push for answers to unexplained symptoms.”
“We lost our father, husband, son, brother, uncle, friend…everything.” Their children are Jackson, 12, Cate, 10, and Graham, 8. Margaret said, “Jeff was a very involved dad. He continued coaching our kids’ baseball games while wearing a chemo pump because he was so determined to be at their events. He stayed very upbeat for them even though he was in a lot of pain.”
Hometown: Maumelle, AR
diagnosed in 1995 at age 16 with stage I colon cancer
Although Lori Smith always remembers having an “upset stomach” as a child, her first memory of any problem was when she was 14. She was spending the night at a friends’ house when she had severe stomach cramps. After throwing up blood twice and filling the toilet with blood when she went to the bathroom, she told her friend who said “that’s gross.” Lori didn’t mention her problems to anyone else for a long time.
By the age of 15, Lori was missing a lot of school because of cramps, but her doctor told her that she just had “woman problems” and put her on birth control. Needless to say, that did not help. She started throwing up every day after she ate, and frequently had bloody diarrhea with mucous. She was so embarrassed that she didn’t talk about it with anyone, even her parents.
Eventually, Lori knew that she was getting too dehydrated and losing too much blood, and the pain was getting to be horrible. She finally told her mom, a nurse, that there was blood in her stool. When her mom saw how much blood was in the toilet, she immediately put her in the car and took her to the doctor. Lori was admitted to the emergency room, rehydrated and given pain medication and antibiotics over the next three days. Although her mom told the doctor there was so much blood that it looked like red paint had been poured into the toilet, Lori got no diagnostic testing. The gastroenterologist she saw the next week did nothing for her either.
A week later she was back in the hospital, where they told her she had severe ulcerative colitis and transferred her to Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Her new doctors found that her colon was covered in polyps and ulcers, and said that she needed surgery. She had her entire colon and part of her small intestine removed, and was given an ostomy. Lori woke up from surgery with a diagnosis of stage I colon cancer. She was 16.
Lori hated the ostomy, and refused to even touch it. Within a few months, she was ready to get rid of it, and her surgeon decided to try to build a particular kind of ostomy called a J-pouch. Although the surgery was successful, Lori spent the next 14 years living still losing blood and spending a lot of time in the bathroom and living off medicine for the pain. She thought it was worth it because she was cancer-free, but she was not living the life she wanted.
In July of 2008, 13 years after her first surgery, Lori had another surgery to get a special kind of ostomy called a BCIR ostomy, which is for people who have ostomies that don’t work. It is internal and requires no bags or appliances, and is irrigated with water twice a day to remove waste. Today, Lori says that she doesn’t ever remember feeling so healthy. Her life no longer revolves around the bathroom and concerns about her health. Her only regret is that she wasn’t given the opportunity to get the BCIR ostomy sooner. She now helps educate doctors and other patients about the surgery that has finally allowed her to live her life.
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2007 at age 46 with stage III colon cancer
Louise Scott’s gynecologist could see the stress on her face in 2007 as she told her that she had blood in her stool and described the severe stomach pain she was having daily. “I told her that my primary care physician had dismissed it five months earlier,” Louise said. She was given a prescription for hemorrhoids. “I remember his exact words: ‘if it was anything else, it would be too late to do anything about it.’”
But Louise’s gynecologist took her seriously and referred her to a gastroenterologist. At 46 and with no family history, Louise was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer. On April 7, 2007, a tumor from Louise’s large intestine was removed. She started weekly chemo treatments after surgery, which her doctors told her will last for an entire year. Like every cancer patient, Louise has been under the care of many doctors – her family physician, a gastroenterologist, an oncologist and a surgeon. She also feels blessed that she made a major life decision to move back to Arkansas from Memphis shortly before her diagnosis. “I feel like that is why I was meant to move back, so that I could be close to my family and have the support I have here.”
Her thoughts about the past year’s major life change? “The hardest thing is the control that you lose over your life,” said Louise. And her advice to others finding themselves in a similar situation? “It is so important to maintain a positive attitude and establish a support system.” Louise admits that she, “no longer sweats the little stuff. This disease has literally changed every aspect of my life!”
Ironically, Louise worked at the American Cancer Society and now works at the Arkansas Department of Health in the area of cancer prevention – both jobs she had before she ever thought she might be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. She works to help other Arkansans prevent cancer, so that they might avoid going through what she has gone through.
She reiterates the common thread of those associated with The Colon Club: “Colorectal cancer is preventable.” Pleading, Louise wants everyone to know to, “Please pay attention to your body and insist that your primary care physician explore all the options and not just treat your symptoms.”
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 1997 at age 33 with stage II colon cancer
Mandy Abernethy had stomach pain for almost a year and could feel a lump there as well. Although she had a colonoscopy, she was told her results were simply Irritable Bowel Syndrome and that the lump was gas.
Mandy then ran a 104-degree fever for several weeks. “I thought maybe I was allergic to the IBS medication,” she said. A nurse relayed the doctor’s message that she “was a stressed out single mother” and that she should “continue taking the medication for IBS and quit calling his office.” When her fever spiked to 106° she went to the ER, only to hear that she had all the symptoms of an acute appendicitis attack. During a procedure at Baptist Memorial Hospital in North Little Rock to remove her appendix, Dr. John Deloach discovered a grapefruit-sized tumor in Mandy’s colon.
Along with her appendix, the tumor was removed and she had a colon resection. She was referred to “the most wonderful oncologist in the world” Dr. Anthony Bucolo, who referred her to Dr. Glenn Davis, who Mandy describes as “a fabulous gastroenterologist.” Mandy had a year of chemotherapy and “thanks to Drs. Bucolo and Davis,” has been in remission since 1997.
At 45, the attorney who works at Arkansas State University-Beebe as human resources director is very happy to say she’s been cancer-free for 11 years. This is especially true because she watched her father suffer and die from colon cancer at 49, and her paternal grandfather suffered from the same disease in his mid-40s. “I knew this before my diagnosis, but I mistakenly thought because I was a woman, my risk of getting colon cancer was not as great,” Mandy admits. Because of her family history, she felt as if her diagnosis was a death sentence. As a single mother, Mandy was terrified of the thought that she might not live to raise her daughter, who was 6 at the time. She didn’t know anyone diagnosed with colon cancer who had survived. “I knew people who had survived breast cancer, but I really wanted to connect with someone who shared my diagnosis,” Mandy said.
So what was the magic that helped her press on through the uncertainty? “Prayer works and every day is a blessing! I also learned to maintain my sense of humor and not to waste my precious time sweating the small stuff,” Mandy now says.
She gives back by contributing to the American Cancer Society and talking about the lesson she has learned with those she encounters. Mandy tells people that “screening is the most important way to prevent colon cancer from progressing to an advanced stage, and a colonoscopy is not nearly as bad as you imagine!”
Joel Marc Harrison
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2005 at age 26 with early stage appendiceal cancer (often considered to be colorectal cancer)
Marc Harrison, special assistant for policy in Governor Mike Beebe’s office, recalled having abdominal pain similar to a stomach bug on November 1, 2005. As the day progressed, the pain became more intense. That night at a UALR basketball game, he just could not endure it any longer and left the game at halftime. The newlywed met his wife, Sarah, at their house and they sped away to Baptist Medical Center Emergency Room. Appendicitis was to blame, and he had what should have been routine laparoscopic surgery.
Fifteen days later in a post-appendectomy checkup, he learned from his surgeon that a tumor was discovered during the appendix biopsy. Marc and Sarah consulted with his doctor, who reviewed the surgery records and pathology results and recommended a colon resection.
On December 28, 2005, Marc had three polpys removed during his first complete colonoscopy. The next day Dr. John Tedford performed the colon resection to remove the tissue surrounding the tumor. Pathology tests on this tissue showed a clear removal of all tumor margins, and Marc was released after a week of recovery. But the very next day he experienced severe pain and heat in the incision area along with a high temperature.
A CT scan showed an abscess, and Dr. Tedford reopened the incision to drain it. The day after he was released from home health, Marc began vomiting and having diarrhea – another red flag. Right away Sarah took him to the ER and after a series of tests, Marc was diagnosed with an infection called Clostridium difficile, commonly known as “C. diff.” This time Marc was in the hospital for five days.
Now 28, Marc says, “I am proud to say that on Dec. 28, 2007, I had a two-year checkup colonoscopy that showed no further issues. For me, the hardest part was the recovery after I left the hospital. I was helpless and basically bedridden. I depended on Sarah and the home health staff for help with the most basic daily functions.” The most important thing he has learned from having cancer: “Everyone has an interesting story to tell. Take time to listen; circumstances in life give us wisdom and perspective.”
Marc is a donor to The V Foundation for Cancer Research and now is involved with The Colon Club. To other cancer patients, he quotes the late basketball coach Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
Randall Howell Butler
January 7, 1950-August 17, 2000
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2000 at age 50 with stage IV rectal cancer
Although Randy Butler, 50, had blood in his stool a few times, his annual physicals included fecal occult blood tests that never detected anything. Otherwise he had no symptoms at all until just two weeks prior to his diagnosis.
Randy was feeling ill after playing golf and thought he was dehydrated. However, his symptoms — fatigue, loss of appetite, stomach pains and night sweats — persisted for a week. Initial blood tests led doctors to suspect that he might have contracted Hepatitis A during a trip to France. His symptoms worsened, so he returned to the doctor before his next scheduled appointment. Following another blood test and an ultrasound, Randy was told that they saw abcesses on his liver and that they wanted him to get a CT scan.
Before the scan, his wife, Linda, called the doctor and learned that they already thought it was cancer – and on the day of the exam, June 7, 2000, the stage IV cancer diagnosis was confirmed. The colorectal cancer was too advanced for surgery, and Randy needed to begin chemotherapy and radiation very quickly. “They didn’t think that he could survive the six-week post-surgery recovery time that is required before beginning chemo and radiation,” his widow said. “The doctors said that his liver was 99 percent covered in cancer and that the cancer had likely been growing for years.”
Treatments began almost two weeks later with radiation every day for six weeks and chemo once a week. Randy’s prognosis was that the cancer was incurable. “Their estimated life expectancy was vague because they just didn’t know. They compared his symptoms to another patient they had treated for six months,” said his daughter, Shannon. And although that patient was still working a few days a week, less than 40 percent of people with stage IV live five years.
Randy died after just eight weeks of treatment on August 17, 2000. His family and friends felt he received the best care possible at Lake Forest Hospital in Chicago. He had no family history of colorectal cancer, but now his daughters are adhering to the advice of being screened every three to five years. “He often told his family that he thought it was really a lot harder for the people around him than it was on him,” said Shannon. “Perhaps if the cancer had been more symptomatic it would have been discovered earlier. It is important to get screened even if your doctors say that you are too young. You have to be willing to advocate for yourself.”
Randy had lived in Morrilton, Little Rock and Chicago. When he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, he was executive director of GCU operations for Searle Pharmaceuticals.
Hometown: Little Rock, AR
diagnosed in 2001 at age 30 with stage II colon cancer
With iron and vitamin B-12 deficiency, Rhonda Williams, 30, was admitted to the hospital on July 13, 2001, for anemia that was so drastic the doctor was concerned about a heart attack. After several blood transfusions, a stool test revealed blood, and her doctor recommended a colonoscopy. In just three short days, Rhonda went from worrying about a heart attack and strokes to being diagnosed with colon cancer.
Her surgeries in July, August, October and November 2001, and in March 2005 included a colectomy and several complications. Doctors had to reopen the original wound to clean out an infection, give Rhonda two autologous blood grafts, and perform hernia surgery on the original wound to install mesh. Rhonda’s chemotherapy, which included 5FU, Leucovorin and Camptosar, was so harsh that she could only complete a month of treatment. Her physicians included her family doctor Dr. Jay Holland, gastroenterologist Dr. Angela Nutt, oncologist Dr. Fernando Padilla and surgeon Dr. Tucker. She was treated at Baptist Medical Center, Little Rock Surgery Center, and St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center.
After everything she has been through, Rhonda is very happy to say that she has been cancer-free for more than six years. This period hasn’t been completely free from repercussions of the disease. Her wound became infected and, although healed now, is still a debilitating problem. “My immune system is not adequate to keep me well,” Rhonda explains. “The chemo put me in the hospital with deadly bacteria.” During this time she has also discovered at least one family connection to colon difficulties – her great aunt had hundreds of polyps, and several of her ancestors died from colon cancer. Strangely enough, her husband’s grandfather had also been diagnosed with colorectal cancer just a few months before Rhonda, and he passed away later that year.
Now 36 and having overcome so many challenges, the retired preschool teacher advises, “Life is too short; enjoy it. Don’t get stressed about things that don’t matter.” Rhonda is involved with the American Cancer Society and advocates for early detection of the disease that has changed her world in the past decade. “Colorectal cancer silently kills without regard to race, sex, or age, and the only prevention is to openly talk about family history with your immediate and extended family so that they can be checked.”
You can read more about Rhonda’s story and her commitment to educating about colorectal cancer, the cause closest to her heart, at www.rhondawilliams.com.
Hometown: Scott, AR
diagnosed in 2007 at age 45 with stage I colon cancer
North Little Rock High School-East Campus teacher Terri Valentine, 45, said her life came to a complete stop in the fall of 2007 amid her normal hustle-and-bustle schedule as a wife, mother and teacher of costume, makeup, stagecraft and drama.
Her mom previously had polyps removed and a colon resection for diverticulitis years earlier. “My husband’s grandmother died from colon cancer, so he had already had a colonoscopy, but I’m not really sure why I asked the doctor for a colonoscopy. I was only 45!” Terri exclaimed. “Looking back, I had symptoms that were definitely signs of colon cancer, but at the time I thought it was stress or something I ate.” At a regular physical, her doctor urged her to get a colonoscopy, and she agreed. When she got the news that she had colon cancer and that part of her colon would have to be removed, “We were in a complete fog of shock!”
One of the hardest things she and her husband, Scott, said they had to do was to tell their 23-year-old daughter, Tiffany, and 16-year-old son, Braye. Their son’s response to the cancer? “Mom, Dad, we will get through this. Everything happens for a reason, and God will get us through this.” After they learned that a family history can greatly increase the chances of getting colorectal cancer, Tiffany also scheduled a colonoscopy. To their family’s shock, a 2-centimeter polyp was removed.
They count their family’s blessings: Tiffany prevented the cancer from ever starting by getting her polyp removed, Scott’s colonoscopy last year turned out well, and Terri’s cancer was contained in the colon. Following a resection which removed 6” of her colon, no additional treatment was needed. She will continue to have bloodwork and scans periodically.
When Scott, a Little Rock firefighter, shared his wife’s news with his co-workers, his friend Bernie Sherwood shared that he lost his 27-year-old daughter Amanda to colon cancer. That is also how the Valentine family learned about The Colon Club. “Bernie gave Scott a Colondar to give to me for support,” Terri said. “Thanks to Bernie and The Colon Club, Scott and I were able to get many of our questions answered.”
Terri has become an activist, insisting that her friends have colonoscopies. She also started a Facebook group called Colorectal Cancer – Keep Your Rear In The Clear, and made a pact with the people who join the group: After 1,000 people joined, she rode her bike 18 miles to school. After 2,000 join, she will get a colon cancer blue star tattoo, 3,000 members will mean she shaves her head for 3,000, and 4,000 will get Terri to skydive.
She now stresses, “Do not put off going to the doctor if you feel something is wrong, because you know your body better than anyone. Be aggressive in finding out what is wrong. Colon cancer does not care how old you are or your sex, and it can change or your life forever! Not many people want to talk about their butts or bowels, but I am not going to let it stop me from spreading the word. I am determined to save lives.”