Coffee, Yoga, and Survivorship

Sharon’s Year-Long Journey
with a Rare Cancer

“I am blessed to be where I am at right now. I choose to head towards life, rather than mope about death. I am just glad to be here, now.”

Sharon has always been healthy and currently enjoying retired life; practicing yoga three times a week, enjoying a quick coffee before running errands, and enjoying her home in Lakeland of over 30 years. So, last year when Sharon was diagnosed with a very rare liver cancer, she was shocked and scared to be facing a terminal diagnosis. Now, in just over one year and with the expert care of her Hollis Cancer Center team, Sharon is facing a new kind of reality- one of hope and survivorship.

In March of 2023, Sharon Farrell was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a very rare liver cancer that occurs in the ducts that drain bile from the liver to the small intestine at the age of 71. She recalls learning that her biggest tumor was the size of a cell phone. Her prognosis was terminal, and she was learning to take her new life day by day.

“It was difficult to hear that diagnosis and to learn things like I would lose my long red hair. But my daughter and I took the bull by the horns and went home and ordered scarves to cover my hair. I just took things one day at a time.”

Sharon’s daughter, Erin, works as an occupational therapist at Lakeland Regional Health’s Grasslands location. With her mom’s new diagnosis, she knew the team at Hollis Cancer Center was the right choice.

Sharon met with Dr. Kamal Haider, an oncologist and hematologist at Hollis Cancer Center who would be overseeing her care. Dr. Haider discussed her course of treatment and how they would tackle this very rare disease. She would first undergo chemotherapy to shrink the tumor as much as possible. With the rarity of this cancer, her team was confident but careful not to give false hope.

Thankfully, Sharon beat the odds and her tumor shrunk in size significantly. Everyone on her team was pleased and frankly surprised she responded as well as she did to the chemotherapy. Additionally, she is undergoing immunotherapy to treat the cancer. But Sharon is a survivor, one who focuses on the small precious moments of life to get through the scary ones.

After chemotherapy ended, she unfortunately experienced a setback and went into ketoacidosis, a complication of the diabetes that Sharon developed due to her cancer. She was hospitalized for six days to recover.

“You do have your moments, your setbacks when the reality hits you a little bit. But truthfully, I am just so happy that I am here and have come so far.”

Sharon credits her support system and the amazing care team for helping her through this hurdle. She received physical therapy at our Grasslands Outpatient Rehabilitation. Lakeland Regional Health’s Riz Mir and her team were instrumental in lifting Sharon’s strength and her spirits.

The Hollis Cancer Center works so hard to give patients hope and recovery in one place. They know the stress of a cancer diagnosis and the toll it takes on families and their loved ones experiencing this chapter of life and work to reduce the travel and stress that accompanies it. For example, our oncologists and surgeons meet weekly at a Tumor Board to share expertise and opinions, collaborate, and put their heads together on difficult patient cases like Sharon’s, giving built-in second opinions.

Sharon will be meeting with her surgeon, Dr. Manuel Molina-Vega, a surgical oncologist specializing in hepatobiliary surgery at Lakeland Regional Health, in just a few weeks to see if she is a candidate for tumor resection surgery where she will be one step closer to recovery and full survivorship. 

Sharon is doing well these days and is enjoying the small moments of happiness throughout her day. Although she misses her loved ones in her home state of Pennsylvania and her daughter and grandbabies in New England, Sharon and her boyfriend love to travel to see them whenever they can. In fact, cancer will not slow Sharon down! She was able to squeeze in a quick trip to Indiana to visit with friends this past year.

Every Saturday she takes a moment of peace and attends yoga with her daughter, and then they find a coffee spot to catch up. Their current favorite spot is Amonie Jo’s Coffee in Lakeland to grab an iced coffee before they hit the farmers market.

“I am blessed to be where I am at right now. I choose to head towards life, rather than mope about death. I am just glad to be here, now.”

Hollis Cancer Center

Since 2003, the Hollis Cancer Center at Lakeland Regional Health has provided patients with a peaceful environment to receive high-quality care. 

If you or a loved one would like to visit our Hollis Cancer Center, call 863.603.6565 today to learn more about the services we provide.