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Faces of Blue: Erin Kazmierski

By September 18, 2023Faces of Blue

Shannon Willis passed away from complications due to colorectal cancer on August 30th 2021. She was 44 years old.

Towards the end of 2019, my sister Shannon started experiencing pain in her abdomen that eventually led to her going to the ER in December. After receiving an x-ray, the results showed what appeared to be a gallstone. No follow up occurred because the pain subsided, and she assumed it was all due to the gallstone.  

Then, as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down the country, Shannon started having discomfort again. She put off doing anything about it because of the shutdown. However, in May of 2020 the discomfort became more than she could handle and she finally went back to the ER. Alone in the ER, she was given the news that there were masses on her liver.

On May 15th, 2020, Shannon was dShannon enjoying some pie with her sister after treatment.iagnosed with stage IV colorectal cancer. She began chemotherapy. She’d come home with “the ball” that she’d have to wear for a couple days before disconnecting(“the ballwas more chemo in a fanny pack that she would come home hooked up to)

The first couple of weeks were rough, but once they got the right balance of meds, she did well! Keeping her high morale, Shannon was able to go on a family Disney vacation trip with her husband and their 10-year-old son for the first time!

During late spring of 2021, the cancer seemed to stop responding to the chemotherapy. After discussion with the doctor, they decided to move forward with a clinical trial drug that was in its later stages of testing. Everything they read and researched was very promising; however, her body did not react well to it. She dealt with many of the side effects of this medicine, and the cancer was not responding.

In the beginning of August, I took Shannon to one of her doctor appointments. She got in the car and said “Do I look yellow?” Yes she did. Bloodwork was done, and we met with the doctor. We went back to my parents house to await results from the blood work and had not been there any longer than 20 minutes when she received a call from the doctor wanting her to go to the hospital asap(her liver enzyme numbers were that high).  

She was going to undergo a somewhat simple operation to place drains. After this was complete, they would restart another chemotherapy regimen. This made us hopeful again! Although Shannon was not feeling well, she was still trying to be positive and stoic, not wanting to inconvenience anyone. These were traits she always embodied.  

What was supposed to be a simple operation, turned very complicated. The surgeons  worked for hours trying to get the drains in place, but the masses just did not allow for it.

The month of August 2021 was a whirlwind – back and forth to the hospital everyday, late nights, roller coasters of emotions. On their second attempt, the doctors were able to get one drain successfully placed.

During this period, Shannon became more and more tired, and was experiencing more pain. However, through all of this, she still maintained her spirit and loving behavior. Family and friends constantly visited, and she was never alone except overnight. Her husband was always there from the beginning to the end of visiting hours. 

But, later that month COVID-19 resurged, which was very inconvenient. On August 23rd, the hospital restrictions were underway again. Only one visitor a day. Shannon’s  husband was able to become the one visitor a day, but it was hard for Shannon to not see her son, parents, and other family members including myself.

The nurses knew how imperative it is for patients to have the love and support and presence of their family and friends. With special permission, the nurses were able to get her son in to visit, which we were so grateful for!

After meeting with her anesthesiologist and discussing the possibility of attempting a second drain placement, Shannon and her husband made the decision not to move forward with the procedure and to transfer her to home hospice care. All of our family and friends were grateful for this time we were given with her.

On Sunday, August  29th, Shannon was back in the hospital, friends and family were able to visit Shan, for last goodbyes. It ended up being a party! So many people in and out, surrounding her with love, she even made a few snarky remarks toward me, which I found comforting. It was a wonderful, bittersweet day. 

The next day, at 3:40pm, Shannon passed away. 

It’s by far the hardest thing I have ever experienced. She was not only my sister, but my best friend! We cried, mourned, and grieved together, and we also rallied around one another and supported each other during this unbelievably sad time. We journey through our lives one day at a time, still grieving and mourning our life without her. But our hope is in God and what is to come-we will see her again someday!


Her story is one of trust, faith, and love.

Shannon with her husband and son.Throughout her life, Shannon only ever wanted a husband and a family. When she met her husband, they were each others’ everything. The love they had for each other was just so apparent in so many ways, to how they looked at each other, interacted with each other, helped each other, and did everything together. They struggled with having a son for some time but got blessed in 2011 with a new baby boy. He then became their everything. 

She loved that boy with all her heart. He was her only child, and a blessing. The true love she shared with her husband was ever apparent during her time of illness. Her husband took over the housework, cleaning, other daily routines, and even caring for their son(he was a real momma’s boy, but when she started to not feel good he naturally transitioned to becoming a daddy’s boy). During her stay in the hospital, her husband was there from morning til night, every day, sitting with her, holding her hand, stroking her hair, helping her to feel comfortable. She never wanted him to leave at night, so he would stay as long as possible. He was her everything, and she was his.  

The one and only thing they did not do together was go to church. Shannon and her son attended every Sunday, but her husband did not. After Shannon’s passing, her husband now comes to church every Sunday, with their son.


Cancer has no bias or stereotypes; it is immune to race, religion, creed, and biology.  Anyone, and anything, is susceptible. Don’t think that you are too young or healthy for cancer. The age for a colonoscopy has been reduced to 45, but still, it affects those who are even younger. Don’t put off your screening. If you’re experiencing symptoms of any kind, go to the doctor! Do not hesitate because cancer doesn’t care about age or status- it just strikes. Early screening = early detection = immediate care!!! 




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  • Tracie Martin says:

    I am so sorry for your family’s loss.. I was recently diagnosed with colon cancer at 48… I just turned 49 on November 9th 2023.. I had been having vomiting spells for over a year without nausea, and cramping in lower abdomen that could almost feel like beginning labor cramps at times. Then I began to see Marron colored blood in my stools. That what is promptwd me to go to the ER. I have been through ct’s amd mri’s, it showed clear lungs and lesions on my liver that are suspicious. They are sending me for a liver biopsy to see if is metastasized to liver..”I am praying it is not.” The tumor they found during colonoscopy was big they doctor said. It is in my sigmoid colon, the doctor could not bypass it to go any further.. I only wish I had listened to my intuition long time ago… My regular doctor downplayed my symptoms by saying it is only GERD. The story of your courageous sister touched me.. everyone that has any of the symptoms needs to be their own advocate and push for testing no matter how old you are… prayers and love to you… I ask please pray for me also..

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