“Grace and Grit” in the Fight Against Stage 4 Colon Cancer

Kelley Lawson's journey with cancer began at the age of 37 when she noticed blood in her stool and experienced mild pain. Concerned about her symptoms, she called her primary care physician, Dr. Rima Patel of Family Medicine of Merrimack, and was scheduled for an appointment the same day. Kelley reflects, "I am so grateful that Dr. Patel took me seriously right away despite my age."

Following a colonoscopy, Kelley received the shocking news of her diagnosis—colorectal cancer, a type of cancer typically diagnosed in people 50 and older. Later, during a visit to Dana-Farber Medical Center, she would learn that it was Stage 4.

Choosing to undergo treatment close to home at Southern New Hampshire Health (SNHH), Kelley found solace in her first encounter with Dr. Gautami Rao, her oncologist at Foundation Hematology/Oncology. Kelley describes Dr. Rao as an “incredible human being”, adding, "I felt cared for as a person, not just as a patient. As soon as she enters the room, I always feel calm and have her full attention."

Given her age and the nature of her condition, treatment needed to be aggressive and included surgery and 13 rounds of chemotherapy. Dr. Rao suggested that Kelley have her surgery at Dana-Farber, and after nine rounds of chemotherapy, Kelley underwent a liver and colon resection, afterward completing her chemotherapy and entire treatment within just ten months.

Kelley praises the care she received at SNHH, emphasizing the importance of community hospitals, their skilled providers, and their ability to collaborate with experts in larger medical centers. Being only 10 minutes away from her frequent treatments and avoiding Boston traffic proved to be a tremendous blessing for her.

The seamless care and support from the nurses and medical staff made a significant impact on Kelley’s overall experience. Throughout her journey, she formed a special bond with her oncology nurse, Ouafaa, who provided the tough love and compassion Kelley needed during her treatment.


As her treatment continued, Kelley faced increasing challenges, but she remained determined and worked full-time remotely at UMass-Lowell. Adhering to immune system social restraints, she sometimes felt lonely and isolated, but her motivation to overcome cancer pushed her to build professional skills and stay connected.

Kelley has been clear of cancer since November 2022. In January 2023, she had her last treatment, and not long after, she received a promotion at her job—a testament to her resilience and dedication. As Dr. Rao describes, “Kelley demonstrates true grace and grit when there is fear of the unknown and with goals for a good quality of life against many odds”. Kelley is grateful for the support she has received from her father and sister as well as co-workers and friends. A support system is not to be underestimated.

Kelley Lawson's journey exemplifies strength, perseverance, and the power of a knowledgeable, connected, and supportive medical team. From the attentive care of Dr. Patel, to the compassion and expertise of Dr. Rao and her oncology nurse, Kelley's experience demonstrates the profound impact that dedicated healthcare professionals can have on a patient's life.

Posted: 12/1/2023