Colon cancer typically originates from polyps, which are small benign growths, found in the colon. These polyps can mutate and become malignant tumors. They can also spread to other parts of the body, a process called metastasis. According to the Fred Hutchinson Research Center, “colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer” in the United States. It is also the “second leading cause of cancer death” among Americans, with only a 6% survival rate for people in the fourth stage.
Finding out that she was one among the 103,170 people diagnosed with colon cancer came as a complete surprise to Mrs. Sheldon, especially since she had had no symptoms to begin with, except for “feeling bloated” and not feeling like she ought to be.
It all began with what Mrs. Sheldon thought was going to be a routine check-up. “I thought it was gonna be ‘oh you have a gallstone’ or whatever...” As it turns out, on March 16, 2012, her doctor diagnosed her with stage IV colon cancer that had spread to her liver. “I was completely devastated.”
“...One of the doctors told me I had 18 months to live and we just like freaked out and then it was totally false, but just to even have someone say that to you is just like ‘what?’ So we had to get through all that and then we got the right information from the right doctors and then it was better, but the very beginning was crazy, it was a roller coaster.”
After receiving her diagnosis, Mrs. Sheldon had to ask herself, “who am I gonna tell?” She first called her sister even though she found it “kind of weird because [Sheldon doesn’t] really talk to her that much, but [Sheldon] knew she’d understand.”
Sheldon then proceeded to call Honors English teacher, Mrs. Hays.
“[Sheldon] said she wanted to tell me, because she needed someone that was gonna be strong for her and help her through it and make decisions about what we were gonna do with the Business Academy because we were supposed to go to New York around that same time, so as she’s telling me, my strength was not fully there. I managed to keep it pretty much together until I hung up the phone.” Mrs. Hays said.
Since then, Sheldon has grown to become straightforward about going through chemotherapy. She usually attends school on Mondays and Tuesdays, and is absent for the rest of the week.
"Well, everybody’s [cancer] is different and everybody reacts differently. Mine, I go in every two weeks and I’m there for sometimes ten hours...”
“Your alternative is to not do anything and die. It’s a little weird, because you go through this room and a lot of the people aren’t as positive... and I always try to go in and joke around and say hi to people; when you’re with people who have cancer who are positive, it’s way easier than the other alternative.”
Aside from hair loss and fatigue, Sheldon experiences other side effects from the chemotherapy treatments. To her, “the most annoying side effect is the numbness, I get numbness in my fingers that doesn’t go away and numbness in my feet and my fingernails are breaking...Fatigue is the number one thing though...but I used to think that I was superwoman and now I’m just like normal women, so it’s not that big of a deal.”
The side effects from chemotherapy and her additional medication force Sheldon to refrain from performing multiple physical activities that may risk a fall, such as riding a bike or climbing a ladder. She also had to give up riding her horse, which is a hobby she loves. Because of the pains and sacrifices she had to go through, Sheldon needed a strong support system; she found that in her students.
“I think the number one thing that has been the most helpful to me has been the students of Costa Mesa High School, more than my family even, more than my colleagues, because there are so many kids and everyday multiple people hug me and ask me about it...And you guys have been amazing, so, so amazing, I can’t even tell you.
All the same, there have been students that were hesitant to approach her due to the cancer.
“...some people can’t handle it, and some people are really good about it...I think that last year was hard on those New York kids, the class of 2012 and kids in VE. A lot of them backed way off because they didn’t know what to do so I kind of confronted them, like, ‘I’m fine, I need you.’ Now they text me a lot; I hear from them quite a bit.”
“...Sheldon symbolizes strength.” expressed Michelle Luna, a student of Mrs. Sheldon’s. “Every obstacle presented to her that she has and will overcome is because of her strength. I have never met anyone so loving of the people around her, so loving [that] she puts aside any personal issues to help others. There is no better way to describe her other than [as an] inspiration.”
As of December 14, 2012, Sheldon was officially in remission.
“[It gives you a] different perspective on what’s important. I don’t sweat the small stuff as much, definitely. Like even if I’m taking a walk, I’m like, ‘Oh, the birds are singing.’ I tune in more to that stuff, it’s like, "‘Wow, it’s a good day. Today’s a good day, the sun is shining.'"