Anything But a Number: Life Rolls on for Randy Rollins Thanks to the Affordable Care Act
Meet Randy Rollins and you’ll immediately get the picture—he’s someone with an incredible respect for life. He’s got a gregarious sense of humor, a strong work ethic, a stubborn, can-do attitude, and an unstoppable love for everything from salvaged antiques to nature hikes and his dogs, grandchildren, children and wife, Chris Vail-Rollins.
But spring 2014, just before Randy and Chris tied the knot, he did something highly unusual. Randy went to the doctor, specifically, Connie Serra, MD, at One Community Health (OCH). This was out of the ordinary only because Randy was the kind of person who if he thought something was wrong with his health, he assumed time and his own toughness would heal whatever it was. Of note, Randy also didn’t have insurance through his employer. Since Randy had a permanent part-time job and Chris was self-employed, it was very difficult for them to afford today’s private insurance. Still, Chris, who Randy jokingly calls “The Force,” insisted they have health care coverage before getting married. So they signed up under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
“Had I not signed up and had the coverage, I would never have gone to see Dr. Serra,” Randy says. “I just wouldn’t have done it.”
However, he did go and found her to be incredibly skilled and intuitive. She prescribed him Prozac, which instantly leveled off some mood swings that had affected him for years.
“She just got me,” he says. “I’d never really had a doctor. Chris and I both chose her to be our doctor, we liked her that much.”
Three months after Randy and Chris married, he paid Dr. Serra another visit. His neck had been feeling strange. In fact, he’d noticed a lump. On October 4, Dr. Serra immediately confirmed a 3 cm bilateral lump on his neck. She ordered a biopsy, which came back positive for cancer, attributed to Human Papilloma Viruse (HPV). Not waiting a minute, she quickly proceeded to coordinate his treatment and care with his Portland-based Ear, Nose and Throat doctor and oncologist.
One month after seeing Dr. Serra, Randy underwent two back-to-back extensive surgeries that lasted 11.5 hours. The first confirmed the cancer had not spread beyond the neck and upper chest. The second removed all his lymph nodes in the neck and upper chest, part of his tongue, and the area around his tonsils. To say the least, Randy had been through the ringer.
“When he came out, he looked like Frankenstein,” recalls Chris. “People would come to visit him in intensive care and were like, ‘Oh my God.’ He was on life support for two days, intubated, bolted up all over his neck and chest. He had blood all over him that they couldn’t remove at first because they needed not to touch or mess with him if possible. He looked like he was dead.”
Truth was, Randy was starting life all over again. After leaving the hospital, he soon began back-to-back radiation and then chemo treatments, which he opted to do at Celilo Cancer Center in The Dalles. Then over the course of that year, he spent a lot of time managing feeding tubes, serious weight-loss, and “hideous pain.” However, slowly and steadily, from his living room chair, he made strides of recovery.
Two years later, Randy says, “I’ve got a clean bill of health. My doctors say if you get my kind of cancer, you usually see indications of it returning within two to three years and so far, I’m good.”
The scars from the surgery are barely noticeable. But Randy’s wife, who lost her first husband to leukemia, will be quick to tell you that these cancer memories are still very raw. Together, they fought through it all and came out stronger and more appreciative of their lives together not to mention all the medical staff who had a hand in Randy’s journey back to health.
“The care Randy received was the best I’d ever seen,” Chris says. “Twenty years ago, when my first husband passed away, it was horrible. You were treated like a number. But going through the system today—it was wonderful. All the doctors treated Randy like a real person. And at One Community Health, it wasn’t ever like you were visiting the doctor. It was like you were visiting your friends…just thinking about it makes me cry.”
Today, Randy is happily rolling along in life. He has just started a new job at WAAAM Air & Auto Museum in Hood River and is excited to “just do whatever they need there,” he says. No question about it, his boisterous, can-do spirit and his jack-of-all-trades skill set will serve that organization well. But he knows there’s also much more to life than work—there’s his time with family, hikes in the woods with his dogs, and just being alone, with himself, alive. Because after all, he is alive—an indisputable truth that, with great credence, he credits to the ACA and the doctors who helped save his life.
“I own my life to the Affordable Care Act, Obama—and my doctors,” he says. “And Dr. Serra, as she coordinated it all for me along the way. She’s amazing. In fact, I recently told her, I said, ‘Dr. Serra…I don’t believe in any gods. But if I did, it would be you.”