I had colon cancer twice before 50 — these are the signs doctors missed

A North Carolina woman who survived colon cancer twice is sharing the subtle warning signs she experienced — even as doctors reassured her there was nothing wrong.

Sherri Rollins, who is approaching 50, recalls in a new essay for TODAY.com that in 2017, life was normal except for a lot of back pain.

She went to the doctor and received a scan, only to be told that there was a lesion on her liver — but it was “nothing to worry about.”

After she had a “gut feeling” that something was wrong, she sought out another doctor, who gave her an MRI, which revealed she had Stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to her liver.

Rollins received the diagnosis in 2018.

Photo of a woman with blonde hair.
Sherri Rollins was diagnosed with colon cancer twice before age 50.

Photo of a woman with blonde hair sitting in her car.
Although doctors initially told her that nothing was wrong, she still had concerns.

Photo of colon cancer.
Rollins received the first diagnosis in 2018.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“My father had colon cancer and passed away in his early 50s,” Rollins wrote. “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.”

Colon cancer is called a “silent killer” because its symptoms don’t often show in the early stages, according to Mount Sinai Medical Center. Like in Rollins’ case, the disease is usually detected at a late stage.

Family history can be a risk factor for colon cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, as well as age, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, a Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, as well as certain racial and ethnic backgrounds, among other attributes.

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It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, per the World Health Organization, and in 2020, there were more than 1.9 million new cases.

Photo of a woman and her family all wearing white shirts.
Rollins remained in remission for four years, but was later diagnosed with colon cancer for the second time.

Photo of a person gettin a colon check.
Her father also had the disease, she said.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Despite the devastating diagnosis, Rollins wrote that she “never felt doomed” even as she underwent a year of chemotherapy and surgery.

Four years later, she felt again that something in her body wasn’t quite right.

“I was in remission for four years — so I thought,” Rollins wrote on TODAY.com. “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.”

In women, colon cancer symptoms can include weakness and fatigue, as well as blood in and around stool and cramping, according to Stamford Health.

At the time, she was still receiving “regular scans” that were coming back clear.

Even though an oncologist reassured her that she didn’t have cancer again, she maintained there was something wrong.

Photo of a colon cancer X-ray screening.
Rollins had experienced back pain before her first diagnosis.
Getty Images

Photo of an X-ray.
This time, the tumor had spread outside the colon and into Rollins’ pelvic floor.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images

And the mom of two was right — in March 2022, the doctor admitted she did have cancer again, as there was a lesion in her rectum.

She said it was initially missed because it was farther down from the spot of the original cancer.

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This time, the tumor had spread outside the colon and into Rollins’ pelvic floor.

To treat it, Rollins received a temporary ileostomy bag to collect waste. It has since been removed.

She underwent intraoperative radiotherapy, which is tumor radiation during surgery.

She had even more chemotherapy.

Now, Rollins is focused on getting better and taking each day at a time, crediting her two sons with being her “biggest cheerleaders.”

She hopes that by sharing her story, even though she’s normally a “private person,” she can help save the lives of others.

“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,” she concluded. “Being your own advocate doesn’t mean you are a disgruntled patient.”

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