Despite Stage IV Cancer Diagnosis, Military Veteran Never Loses Hope

August 26, 2020

Scott Sterling spent his entire military career pushing both his mind and body to the limit. A member of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the U.S. Army’s premier large-scale special operations force and a special mission unit within the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, Sterling was trained to endure and overcome any challenge placed in front of him.

His years of training were put to the test when he was forced to face his toughest obstacle yet: a cancer diagnosis.

In 2018, Sterling, then 51, realized something wasn’t right when he felt a sharp pain in his lower right abdomen while getting out of his car. When the pain failed to subside throughout the day, he went to the emergency room, thinking there might be something wrong with his appendix.

Sterling spent hours at the hospital as doctors ran various tests from bloodwork to MRIs. Still stumped, the team told him they wanted to conduct a pelvic scan and after he was free to head home. It was during this final scan they found the source of his pain: stage IV colorectal cancer, which had spread to his liver.

Challenge accepted

Sterling immediately began treatment at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, where he was placed under the care of Nadine McCleary, MD, MPH, a senior physician at Dana-Farber’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Treatment Center, and Kathleen Boyle, PA-C, physician assistant.

Sterling remembers spending the first half of his appointment in a daze as McCleary explained the severity of his disease and what he was up against. He mentally checked out when he learned his disease was not curable, and assumed the worst because he had recently lost two great friends to cancer.

But then, McCleary said something that changed his whole mindset.

“She told me they were going to work to manage my disease, and that the two of us would be friends for a long time,” explains Scott. “I remember thinking, ‘Now we’re talking!’ I quickly stopped feeling sorry for myself and approached it as another challenge I needed to overcome.”

Scott Sterling. Credit: Boston Creative Headshots

Since coming to Dana-Farber, Sterling has been placed on a number of different chemotherapy and targeted therapy regiments, along with radiation, designed to both stabilize his disease and relieve him of his symptoms.

While the goal is to surgically remove a patient’s initial tumor(s) when possible, Sterling was not originally eligible for surgery due to the aggressiveness and extensiveness of his cancer.

However, after nearly two years of effective treatment, Sterling was cleared for a procedure to remove his primary colorectal tumor. In August 2020 he underwent the surgery, and says he is feeling stronger each day while recovering. Sterling says he is extremely grateful to his care team for believing in him including his surgeon, Ronald Bleday, MD, co-director of the Colon and Rectal Cancer Center at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

“Thanks to Dr. Bleday and his team, the primary tumor is gone, and I can now put that chapter behind me,” Sterling says.

‘There’s only one Scott’

Through it all, Sterling’s care team has been inspired by his perseverance and positive attitude. In 2019, Sterling walked the entire 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk presented by Hyundai, all while undergoing active treatment.

Sterling and Kathleen Boyle, PA-C, a physician assistant at Dana-Farber and a member of Sterling’s care team, at the 2019 Jimmy Fund Walk.

McCleary and Boyle also participated in the 2019 event, where they saw Sterling’s face at mile 19.5. It reminded them of everything their patient had overcome — and gave them the extra push they needed to complete the course.

“It’s not a mistake that Scott is where he is today. He is a survivor,” says McCleary. “He is incredibly strong, but also kind and compassionate. There is only one Scott and it has been a pleasure to truly partner with him.”

While Sterling continues to serve as an inspiration for his care team, he says he wouldn’t be where he is today without them. Their expertise and caring, along with the love and support he’s received from his wife, Christina, his family, and friends, has given him the drive he needs.

“You can never give up, because you always have hope,” explains Sterling. “And that’s what coming to Dana-Farber gives you: hope.”