It’s been a busy month for Sheila Schrack, a certified athletic trainer who’s been with Akron Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine since December 2009. She has been backstage at the “Rachael Ray Show,” rang the closing bell at the Nasdaq building in New York City and traveled to Washington, D.C. for the annual Call-on Congress advocacy event.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Sheila is passionate about colon cancer education, research and screening because she’s a survivor who wants to “pay it forward.”
In 2006, Sheila hadn’t been feeling well and thought she might have an ulcer. Her family doctor thought the problem might be Crohn’s disease, and a gastrointestinal specialist suspected colitis. A colonoscopy revealed the culprit: colon cancer.
“I was only 38 years old – cancer never crossed my mind,” she recalled. “As I was coming out of the fog of my colonoscopy, my doctor kept referring to ‘a mass that needed to come out.’ My husband was crying, so I knew it was something serious.”
Sheila underwent surgery a month later to remove a large section of her colon and many lymph nodes. “Because the cancer spread to my lymph nodes, I was classified as stage 3C,” she said. “The prognosis wasn’t good. However, I’m a competitive person and decided to fight the cancer with tenacity. I wanted to see my two kids graduate from high school.”
In addition to surgery, Sheila endured a year of chemotherapy. “Every other week, I would get 8 hours of chemotherapy at the hospital and then wear a chemo pump for 48 hours after that,” she shared. “I participated in a clinical trial that is now part of standard colorectal cancer treatment, so that’s pretty cool.”
Sheila continued to work while going through chemo. “Come Friday night, I was back on the football field to perform my duties as an athletic trainer,” she said. “I wanted to live as much as I could while undergoing treatment.”
Sheila gets checked regularly, and no evidence of cancer has been detected since she finished treatment in 2007. She now actively advocates for colon cancer research and screening. “Colorectal cancer can be treated successfully if it’s caught early,” she said. “That’s why it’s important to get screened – and go to the doctor if you’re not feeling right.”
Sheila has a famous family friend who is helping her raise awareness of colorectal cancer. “My husband and actor Luke Perry have been good friends since elementary school,” she said. “Luke’s been super in helping us raise awareness of colorectal cancer. He got a colonoscopy prior to the usual age of 50, so he could understand what he was talking about when it came to screening, and he had polyps. Had he not gotten them removed, cancer could’ve developed.”
Luke appeared earlier this month on the “Rachael Ray Show,” while Sheila watched from backstage (he mentions her at 1:55 of this video) and enjoyed amazing food in the green room.
“Luke teamed up with the ‘Fight Colorectal Cancer’ advocacy group and its Strong Arm Selfie national campaign,” Sheila explained. “For every person who takes a selfie while flexing a bicep with the hashtag #StrongArmSelfie and tag @fightCRC, Bayer Healthcare will donate a dollar to Fight CRC. Each retweet or share of a #StrongArmSelfie counts, too!”
The trip to New York City included a bell-ringing ceremony at Nasdaq – and Sheila was among those featured on the giant Times Square video screen with the “Fight CRC” logo. Sheila also attended a bash at Hard Rock Café with Katie Couric, along with NASCAR driver and colon cancer survivor Scott Lagasse Jr.
“Luke called and asked if I wanted to go to New York City with him,” Sheila said. “Thankfully, March is a slower month at work because winter sports have ended and it’s too cold for outdoor spring sports to begin. No one else in Sports Medicine was on vacation, so I jumped at the chance to go.”
For the past 5 years, Sheila has participated in the annual Call-on Cancer event in Washington, D.C. “It’s a three-day gathering of colon and rectal cancer survivors, caregivers and loved ones from across the United States,” she explained. “We spend the first two days learning about new science behind colorectal cancer treatment and important policy issues. On the third day, we meet with members of Congress and their staff.”
Sheila met her initial goal of seeing her kids graduate from high school. Her son works for the University of Michigan football program – under their cousin, Coach Jim Harbaugh – and her daughter is a freshman at Kent State University. “Cancer isn’t a club you want to be in, but it’s changed my life for the better,” she offered. “I have a message now. I want to raise awareness about colorectal cancer and save families from having to go through what our family faced.”