“I don’t think it’s curable. It’s treatable, but not curable.”
And with those dreadful words from their doctor just a few short weeks ago, country music singer/songwriter Coffey Anderson and his wife Criscilla’s life was once again put into an emotional tailspin that hasn’t stopped since Criscilla was first diagnosed with colon cancer last year.
But this time, they were told it’s stage 4.
And Coffey, the viral country crackup who has made a living not only on his sheer talent but his addictive way of looking at the bright side of life, broke down in tears.
“He never lets me see it,” Criscilla, 39, says quietly during a new interview with PEOPLE about her husband’s emotional reaction to her current cancer plight. “He just tries to keep smiling.”
And there had been plenty of smiles.
Before cancer became an everyday topic of conversation in their California home, the pair were just two kids with big dreams. Criscilla was a budding actress, choreographer and dancer, while Coffey was utilizing his music talents to lead worship at various churches. In fact, the two first met at one of those churches through mutual friends and began dating in 2008.
One year later, they were married.
But never could they predict what would happen to them nine years later.
“When you say that you will be there for each other through thick and thin and through sickness and health, you have to mean it,” Coffey, 40, says. “There are a lot of moments that you can never prepare for. I mean, I never thought I would be helping Criscilla brush her teeth or get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But we are willing to do it for each other. Each of us are giving 100 percent.”
Indeed, it was May of 2018 when Criscilla started getting signs that something was just not right when it came to her health. The mother of three would often find herself doubled over in pain, trying her best to endure the stomach pains that would hit her out of nowhere, and then eventually subside.
“As a mom, you always feel like you don’t have the time to deal with things like this,” reflects Criscilla. “But there came a point when I couldn’t ignore it anymore.”
That time came when Criscilla was in Louisville, Kentucky, for a dance event. The pain got so bad that she ended up in the emergency room, where they diagnosed her with colitis and sent her home with an antibiotic and strict instructions to follow-up with her doctor back home in California.
But the pain continued, and days later, Criscilla would end up in the emergency room again, this time going home with some cramping medicine to see her through.
“The whole time, I had been sharing my story on Instagram, and my girlfriend chimed in and told me that her dad was a GI doctor in Long Beach and that I should go see him,” says Criscilla, whose Instagram followers are quickly approaching the 40K range. “By that time, I was in excruciating pain. I mean, I had stopped going to the bathroom. It was bad.”
Indeed, it was bad, so bad that when doctors attempted to do an emergency colonoscopy, they couldn’t.
There was a tumor in the way.
Criscilla would spend close to two weeks in the hospital, spending one of the 11 days in surgery, where the doctor removed two feet of her colon from her body. While there, she also learned that she would be going home this time with a stage 3C colon cancer diagnosis.
And now, after a brief remission earlier this year, things have gotten worse.
“The cancer has spread throughout my para-aortic region and has begun growing up my back,” she says of her current Stage 4 metastatic colon cancer diagnosis. “My ultimate goal is to be in remission and have it not be chronic but be in a situation where it can be completely healed. The ideal, if that cannot happen, would be to keep it maintained and have it not spread any further for the rest of my life.”
Criscilla will now begin three months of chemotherapy at City of Hope National Medical Center in California and spend much more time with a holistic doctor in Houston, who is helping Criscilla make some vital changes to her diet and her overall mental state. (A GoFundMe has been created to help the family cope with the cost of these medical expenses.)
“I honestly feel like this man is going to change my life,” says Criscilla, who is also looking at the possibility of traveling overseas for further treatment.
One of the cruel coincidences of all of this is that Coffey lost his own mom to lung cancer just 10 days before his 11th birthday.
“Life is not fair, but God is always good,” Coffey says, stopping for a moment to collect his thoughts. “I hate the smell of hospitals. I was 10 years old when my mom was going through her treatments, and I can still remember that smell. But I can also remember how my dad took care of my mom, and how he was the one carrying her to the bathroom and washing her back. So now, I’m taking care of my wife.”
Despite the dire circumstances they find themselves in, Criscilla and Coffey cling to each other, and to their kids — 8-year-old Ethan, 6-year-old Emmarie and 2-year-old Everleigh.
“Oh, these kids,” says Coffey, who plans to release a new country album in the coming months. “They bring so much joy and love with them. They are the sweetest children.”
“When they lay their head down on my shoulder, I just feel so lucky to be their mom,” says Criscilla. “When we are all together, everything is okay again.”