A Santaquin man has been fighting for his life after a decades- long battle with a rare disease that has shown up in more ways than one.
57-year-old Roland Merrill has been battling ulcerative colitis for most of his adult life, and through a series of procedures that his wife, Patti Merrill said were blessings in disguise, cancer was found, treated, and Roland was alive and cancer free.
“Rolland was diagnosed with colitis when our oldest daughter was a baby,” Patti recalled. “At that time, it was so severe that when he got his first diagnosis, the doctors really didn’t think he was going to live – and if he did live, they didn’t think that he would make it out of the hospital with his colon intact.”
At that time, not only did Rolland live, but he was able to keep his colon for another 17 years after the initial diagnosis. As the years went by, Patti explained that Rolland still did suffer the effects of the disease, and had heard about a new study that he wanted to be a part of. The study required patients to have a current colonoscopy, but at the time he was in the middle of a flare up. The doctors were concerned about performing a colonoscopy at that time, but Rolland convinced them to do it.
It was that colonoscopy that revealed that his entire colon had what is called high grade dysplasia, with the next step after that being full-blown cancer.
“That colonoscopy was so instrumental in discovering that Rolland was precancerous, and it led to a full colectomy where his entire colon was removed,” Patti said. “There were also several biopsies done that showed that he had several tumors that had already begun to form, so had he not had that surgery, he probably would have only had six months to a year left with us.”
Patti explained that while Rolland spent many years cancer-free, he still struggled with his health and has had to have several more surgeries. Even so, she said that he remained in good spirits.
“People who knew Rolland through those times, knew that he was just a happy person,” she said. “He didn’t put in anyone’s mind his struggles, but he just wanted people to be happy.”
Patti said that due to Rolland’s health, it has been difficult for him to work, but that he has always found a way to serve others.
“Rolland has done a lot of service because he’s always the happiest when he is able to help others,” Patti said.
Some more diagnosis’
Things were coming along, and the Merrills were managing Rolland’s health well enough until June 2022 when, as his daughter Malory said, her dad “turned yellow.”
According to Patti, around Father’s Day was when Rolland started feeling sick again. While at the hospital, a series of tests were run, and he was diagnosed with yet another autoimmune disease – this time Crohn’s Disease.
“Crohn’s is very closely related to ulcerative colitis; the only difference is that UC stays in your colon and Crohn’s affects your entire digestive tract from your mouth all the way down,” Patti explained. “Typically people don’t get both, but Rolland is one of the lucky ones, I guess,” she joked.
In August is when Rolland started to turn yellow in his skin and eyes. After another trip to the hospital, it was determined that he had a rare liver disease Primary Sclerosing Cholangiti (PSC). The Merrills were told that Rolland will need a liver transplant. The couple thought that things would be OK because Rolland had been cancer free for so many years.
After some more tests, doctors found that Rolland’s tumor count was high, and they were sure that he had cancer. Several more tests later, doctors found a tumor in his gallbladder, and performed a surgery to remove the gallbladder to prevent the cancer from spreading. While the Merrills were glad that the cancer was caught early, finding the tumor made it so that Rolland would not be able to receive a new liver for another five years if he remained cancer free.
Rolland is now undergoing chemotherapy to clear out any possible cancer cells in his body.
Remaining grateful and hopeful
Patti said that even with all of the trials that they have faced as a family, that she has seen a lot of good things, and she finds hope that things are going to be OK.
“There is always hope,” Patti said. “… I can now operate from a place of hope and faith and knowledge that this is going to be OK. However this works out, every day is a blessing and every day is beautiful, and you know what? Life isn’t perfect. It is incomplete and it is always changing.
“In Japan, there is this philosophy that is called “wabi sabi,” that means there is beauty in imperfection. “There is so much imperfection in nature and it is beautiful. Nature is always changing, and we don’t think of it as bad; we just love it. Life is going to change, and we can be at peace with all of it. It is good to be at peace.”
Patti said that her belief in God has also helped her and Rolland find peace and perspective.
“Life is full of hard things, but God still loves us,” she said. “If telling our story and sharing our situation can, in any way, help anyone else, that is a good thing. And if anyone is inspired or moved upon to be able to help financially, we would be grateful because it is one of those things that is a challenge when you have a situation like ours. Our doctors do need to get paid.”
The Merrill’s daughters Malory Merrill and Erika Merrill have organized a Gofundme to help their dad that can be found under Roland Merrill’s Hospital Funds.