Sharon Wells, a health conscious, physically active mother of two with no family history of colorectal cancer, never thought she'd have to worry about getting the disease.
But there she was, at age 45, hearing those dreaded words over the phone last summer during a vacation at Yellowstone National Park.
"To hear that you have cancer, it's just such a strong word," the Bartlett woman said. "It's an incredibly emotional experience."
Wells, now 46, had successful surgery Aug. 19 at Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin to remove the cancer, along with 20 percent of her colon and 32 lymph nodes.
Now, she wants to give back by educating people about the risks of colorectal cancer through a "Get Your Rear in Gear" 5K walk/race to be held in Elgin on Aug. 2, the anniversary of her colonoscopy.
"If I can save somebody's life or prevent them form going through what I went through, then I've made a difference," said Wells, a physical therapist at Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Elgin.
Wells first noticed something might be amiss early last year, when she did the yearly "Hustle Up the Hancock" stair climb with family and friends in Chicago.
"I didn't get my best time, but I thought, 'Oh well,'" she said.
Over time, though, she started becoming light headed and dizzy while boxing and biking with her husband, Devin, 51. The couple have two teenage sons.
Wells went to her gynecologist, who did blood work and determined she was very anemic. She then went to see Sherman gastroenterologist Sonia Godambe, who ordered a colonoscopy.
"I didn't even think that anything could be really bad," she said.
The colonoscopy, however, showed a large mass in Wells' colon.
Devin was shocked.
"She's very healthy," he said. "She doesn't get sick very often, and she exercises quite often."
The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20, or 5 percent, with a slightly lower risk in women, according to the American Cancer Society.
Everyone should have a colonoscopy at age 50, Godambe said.
If the results are normal and there is no family history of colon cancer, people don't need to repeat the procedure for 10 years, she said.
Godambe said the incidence of colon cancer in people ages 50 and older has been decreasing, likely because of increased awareness about screenings.
However, women and minority groups, including Latinos and African-Americans, don't get tested as much, she said.
"It's either due to fear, insurance coverage or access to care," she said.
Wells, who didn't have any risk factors, believes that being healthy helped her detect the cancer sooner.
"It helped me notice that something was wrong, and it also helped with recovery," she said.
Although the surgery was successful, Wells has to undergo blood work quarterly and more colonoscopies, the first one at the one-year mark in August. If all goes well, she will be declared cancer-free in five years, she said.
Wells said she is excited about putting her energy into organizing the 5K walk/race. The Colon Cancer Coalition organizes Get Your Rear In Gear races all over the country; this will be the first in Elgin.
"I decided to make a twist on this negative event and turn it into a positive," said Wells, who participated in one such walk last October in Chicago.
"I thought, 'Why not bring this even out to Elgin and see what we can do to provide education out in this area?'" she said.
Devin Wells said funds raised will go toward education and prevention within the Elgin community. "This is one of the only cancers that is truly preventable and treatable," he said.
Sharon Wells believes she simply has a duty to share her story.
"I've always lead a very private life, so (speaking publicly) is hard for me," she said. "But part if my job now is to educate."