Want to learn more about this at Kettering Health?
Sarah Francis entered 2022 expecting change. She and her husband, Tim, were married in January in Hawaii, “just us,” marking a year of newness: a new marriage, a new living situation, and even a couple of new dogs, Norman and Freda.
Some things hadn’t changed—like her job. She’d worked for PNC Bank for 20 years doing default litigation, a career requiring a lot of travel. “I was on the road all the time,” Sarah said.
But as the year progressed, even the familiarity of travel turned into something Sarah could no longer lean on.
Something was off
Sarah started to feel ill. She was “very anemic,” requiring three blood transfusions. She had fainting spells in airports but did her best to carry on.
“It was rough,” Sarah said. “I was just going on as usual—or trying to go on as usual—but then it became too much.”
Sitting in a hotel room in California, Sarah answered her phone. It was a call she expected, but from the other end came a surprise. Her doctor’s office had the results of her colonoscopy. But instead of giving her the all clear, they asked her to come to the office. Immediately.
“I said, ‘I’m not home. I’m not in town until Friday,’” she said. “But I knew as soon as they called. You know, you get a feeling. I knew something was off.”
Sarah met with her doctor the day she returned from California. The news confirmed two things. Her first year of marriage was going to be completely different than she expected. And she had colon cancer.
The fear in his eyes
Her symptoms worsened until the night Sarah recalls as her worst. She couldn’t sleep; she couldn’t even get comfortable. Her stomach was distended “like it was completely full.” She was vomiting even though it had been a week since she’d eaten.
“It was outrageous,” Sarah said. “I can’t believe I didn’t go to the hospital sooner.”
When Sarah saw her surgeon, Dr. Riyad Tayim, she finally grasped the seriousness of her condition.
“The concern on his face when he first saw me, which was right after I was diagnosed—I could see the fear in his eyes,” Sarah said. “He was pretty sure I had a complete blockage, and he wanted me to go to the hospital immediately.”
Fearing Sarah may have more masses, her care team opted for six months of chemotherapy instead of rushing her into surgery to remove the mass in her colon.
Showing up anyway
Though new territory for Sarah, colon cancer wasn’t completely unfamiliar. Lisa, a dear friend of hers, had battled it for the past six years. And Lisa made it a point to be with Sarah on her first day of chemotherapy.
“She had gone through all her stuff and really helped me,” Sarah said. “She was kind of the one who got me through it.”
It wasn’t until later that Lisa told Sarah how she’d found out her own cancer was terminal that same day—how she showed up for her friend before grieving her own mortality.
“She showed up anyway,” Sarah said. “She was there for me.”
Always by Sarah’s side
Sarah persisted through treatment in awe of her friends. Lisa’s selflessness. And the way Tracy, Sarah’s friend since seventh grade, never let her face cancer alone.
Tracy took off work every other Tuesday for six months to take Sarah to and from chemotherapy—a less-than-glamorous job suited only for a best friend.
“She drove me home, still attached to the portable chemotherapy bag,” Sarah recalled, “having to stop numerous times for me to puke in the closest yard.”
Tracy was there for other key moments, too. Like the day Sarah shaved her head.
“She’s always by my side when I need her.”
Like a miracle
Sarah finished chemotherapy in April 2023, and not without immense success.
“At that point, the chemo had nearly made the mass disappear. He just had to go in there and clean things up.”
Concerns of masses on Sarah’s kidney and other organs were assuaged. The cancer had not spread. Knowing that, at one point, there was talk of possibly removing her entire colon, Sarah was amazed at her progress—and her surgeon.
“He was able to get everything out,” she said. “It’s like a miracle. It really is.”
“Lucky for me”
Sarah has since returned to work and is starting to get out and enjoy life with Tim again.
“It’s so nice to be able to finally get what we thought was going to be our first year together,” she said.
They enjoy attending flea markets and toy shows together to look for collectibles. But walking around these events is no longer a leisurely weekend activity. They remind Sarah how far she’s come. And, how the promise she and her husband made to each other that January day in Hawaii is still just as important.
“I mean, what a guy,” Sarah said, her smile seeping into her voice. “He was great to be there with me through all of it. It was a big deal. We had just gotten married. It was truly tested the first year. But he’s amazing, and we’re doing great.”
Despite all she’s been through—sickness, suffering, and loss—Sarah reflects on all she’s gained:
“Lucky for me,” she said. “I feel very lucky for that.”
The month's most popular health news, stories, and tips in your inbox.Sign Up