Published Oct 15, 2021
Country Ever After star Criscilla Anderson, a hip-hop dancer who danced for stars such as Britney Spears and Rihanna and has battled advanced stage colon cancer since 2018, recently heard the four magical words every cancer warrior dreams of hearing: “No evidence of disease.”
Still glowing following the news and contemplating a margarita to celebrate, Anderson generously caught up with SurvivorNet. The 41-year-old wife and mother of three shares her inspiring journey, her fight for her family and why she prefers not to talk about her cancer. This is all as she and her family, husband and country music singer Coffey Anderson and their three kids, finally move into their newly-built Dallas dream home this week.
“To be honest with you, I haven’t dealt with the triggers and the trauma. It’s major trauma, and it’s probably something I should look into. The minute someone is like, ‘How are you?’ I can’t deal with it,” Anderson admits to SurvivorNet in the candid interview. “And I know they don’t mean harm, I know it’s all in love … but I get so many people asking me about ‘so and so just got diagnosed with cancer, I want to know all the things,’ and to be honest, I don’t want to talk about it,” she says.
Anderson says she gets frequent requests for interviews and podcasts, but understandably, she just can’t talk about cancer all the time.
“I’m not trying to be insensitive to the people who need to hear it, I would love to help everybody but if I can just stick to (SurvivorNet) and my friend at People (magazine), and keep it to a couple (of media outlets) that people have access to, then I’m doing my part without taking away from caring for my own mental health,” she says.
The girl with cancer. Coffey’s wife. The one with cancer.
These are all things Anderson says she’s commonly called, but “there’s so much more to me.”
“I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m a dancer, I have a fun career, I just built a gorgeous home, we moved to Texas, we are living our best lives,” Anderson tells SurvivorNet. “There’s so much more to me, and I want this behind me — constantly bringing it up is not helping. Everyone’s journey is different. Don’t come to me saying my dad died of colon cancer. Don’t tell me that! Tell me a success story.”
Now, she’s celebrating her own success story — the fact that she has no evidence of disease, and moving into her and her family’s dream home.
“It’s been an exciting week!” Anderson shares. “We FaceTimed friends and family to share the good news (that there’s no disease). I was like, ‘I want a margarita tonight!'”
Coffey picked her up and took her to their new home, where he had a surprise waiting — or multiple surprises rather. “He put a blindfold on me,” she says, “then when I took it off, all of my neighbors and friends were there, screaming and cheering. We all celebrated in front of our new house, it was awesome!”
Advanced stages of colorectal cancer are not always curable.
However, because there are so many treatment options available, they can often be managed.
Every cancer is different, and every person’s battle is uniquely their own. But it’s important to understand treatment for stage 4 colon cancer, and what it means in most cases.
Dr. Paul Oberstein, a medical oncologist at NYU Langone Perlmutter Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet that options for treatment are complicated and unique to each person. There are different surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments depending on where the tumor is in the body.
“When someone comes in with cancer that has spread outside the colon, it’s called stage 4 colon cancer, or metastatic colon cancer,” Dr. Oberstein says. “The primary goal of therapy, and we discuss this in great detail with patients and their families, is to manage the cancer, is to try to control the cancer, to turn it into what we call a chronic disease, so to prevent it from growing, spreading and causing problems.”
Anderson finished chemotherapy at the end of April.
Her oncologist “liked what he was seeing,” so he let her take a brief break from chemotherapy. “The cancer that was in my abdominal cavity had calcified, and he liked that. It was shrinking.”
Her doctor gave her permission to attend Hope4Cancer in Mexico, which is an alternative treatment facility. “(It’s an) amazing place; I do have to dedicate a lot of my healing process to that place,” she says.
“However, you have some pretty large cysts on each ovary and some fluid, and I don’t like what I see. I’m not saying it’s cancer, but I don’t like what I see,” Anderson says her doctor told her. “When your oncologist is telling you that, and he specializes in your type of cancer, it makes you nervous. And what was messed up about it is my tumor markers were in the normal range, so I’m like, ‘This doesn’t match.'”
Her doctor wanted to remove the cysts. Anderson wasn’t leaning toward having the surgery, “but I was feeling some discomfort in that area of my body, so it made me nervous. And that anxiety, when you know that something could be wrong and you’re starting to feel something, that’s not a peaceful feeling.”
After some more thought, she told her husband she was going to do it. Anderson flew to Los Angeles and had a partial hysterectomy — a type of surgery designed to remove a woman’s uterus, leaving her cervix intact. And thankfully, the cysts wound up being benign.
“Those cysts were really small, they were nothing near what we thought they were from the beginning,” Anderson says her surgeon told her when he came to tell her how the operation went. He thought that perhaps the fluid in front of the cysts was magnifying the growths and making them look bigger.
Then, a week and a half later, the surgeon calls and tells her everything is benign.
“That was the last evidence of cancer,” she says, “so currently, I am no evidence of disease, which is so great, and we are just rejoicing and so excited.”
In early summer 2018, Anderson was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. She had part of her colon removed and went through six months of chemo.
“I was deemed in remission for six months,” she says. “I went into my six-month scan and the cancer had spread and grown, so that put me into stage 4.”
From that point on, she made major diet changes and sought out other treatments because the chemo wasn’t working. She did three more months of chemo, then she went to Spain for complementary therapies.
Unfortunately, the cancer kept growing.
“I tried one round of immunotherapy, a clinical trial back in Los Angeles and I had results, but I had such a bad reaction that they couldn’t keep me on it,” she says.
Her liver was enlarged and severely inflamed. “I had a rash all over. It was the worst thing I ever experienced,” she says. “I literally wanted to die.”
She went back to try three more rounds of chemo, then started trying more complementary therapies at Hope4Cancer. But she didn’t stop the chemo; she just didn’t do it for as long as her doctors would have liked. This time around, her results were obviously much better, as she finally had success.
“Stage 3 chemo is different than stage 4 chemo,” she says.
Anderson makes it clear that she knows her journey may not be over.
“There’s a high chance that it (the cancer) could start growing somewhere else, because chemotherapy does not cure cancer,” she says. “It’s kind of like a Band-Aid; it fixes it for a little while.”
That’s why she says she prefers to do complementary treatments along with the standard care for her cancer. She credits her community for helping her be able to do those kinds of things “because it’s not cheap. I couldn’t do it without them, my friends, my family, my followers on social media, they’ve all rallied together to help me and family.”
“I’ve been so blessed, and I will continue to not take it for granted, and do those therapies,” she says. “It is like a chronic disease — it will definitely be something I battle with my entire life and will constantly try to keep under control. I mean, it’s stage 4, you know?”
“I know that chemo is not a cure and I know that this particular type of cancer does not have a big success rate. However, my God is bigger, and I have done my homework to know what works and what doesn’t.”
Anderson stresses the importance of taking charge of your health.
“I have to be my own advocate, absolutely, 100 percent,” she says. “I cannot rely on one single doctor.”
She also notes the daily highs and lows of the disease — “It’s never this,” she says while moving her hand steadily.
Anderson admits that she’s a bit discouraged at going into “instant menopause” following her partial hysterectomy procedure, but she’s still being reasonable about the situation. “I’m 41 right now, I’m going to hit menopause one day soon anyway, so I’ll be fine.”
There are times when she feels that she may have had the surgery “for nothing,” but at least she has peace of mind after everything else she’s been going through. “You just don’t know.”
Anderson shifts gears and says that if she didn’t have the surgery, she would always wonder. “I wouldn’t have peace of mind. I have peace of mind knowing they (the cysts) were nothing and not in me anymore. Peace of mind is so important.”
Her decision also brings joy to her family. “My kids, my husband — he can go to work knowing I’m OK.”
An all-around Super Woman, Anderson continues to be a hands-on mom, raising her three kids while going through chemo and battling stage 4 cancer. Most impressive?
“I designed every inch of this home,” she says of the new construction, “besides the floor plan.”
“My heart and soul went in to building this home, and the crazy thing is, while building this home, I would wonder if it was meant to be a home that my babies would have when I’m gone, or if I was building it to create some memories with their mom before I was gone,” she says. “And now, we’re building it, moving in, knowing we’re building it as a family to live in it together and make memories in it as we grow up together, and that’s literally how I feel right now.”
The couple’s kids, Ethan Anderson, Emmarie Grace-Gloria Anderson and Everleigh Anderson, are overjoyed to move into their new home, their mother says. The children have dreams of their own, which is fun for their parents to see.
“Ethan is into sports and wants nothing to do with dancing and singing,” she says with a smile. “Emmarie wants to be a little YouTuber. She takes her toys and opens them; she makes little dance videos.”
Emmarie is also in gymnastics, and Anderson has her in private lessons. “We’ve gotta catch up with all these Texas girls; they don’t play around here!” she says, referring to the highly competitive stars in-the-making in their area. (Dallas can be quite the stage mom scene.)
Anderson is also continuing with her dreams for her choreography career. The dancing queen kept on performing during higher energy days throughout her cancer battle, and has been doing some choreography for the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. (Making the Team on CMT will be airing an episode Oct. 15 that features Anderson teaching the girls.)
Now, Anderson is dancing on a new stage of life as she continues thriving, doing anything she has to do to stay healthy and strong for her family.
Anderson has been flying back and fourth to Los Angeles for her cancer care.
However, now that the family will officially be settling in Dallas, Anderson has decided that she’s ready to establish care in Dallas, especially now that she’s made such great progress. She also won’t have to stress about flying far from her family for future scans and surveillance to monitor how she’s doing.
“I will probably see my new oncologist in Texas in about a month or so to do blood work,” she says, also mentioning that she intends to spend more time in Mexico.
Going through cancer is tough both physically and mentally, and going through it as a parent can be particularly challenging.
“I never cried about it in front of them. Coffey and I had nights lying in bed crying,” Anderson says. “When I was doing the chemotherapy and would be sick, I would actually be in California, and for awhile, I liked that I was sick away from them so they don’t see it so that I come home feeling pretty normal. The only thing they really have seen is after the surgery lying in bed, this surgery.”
“They know I’m better, so they’re understanding,” she adds.
Anderson says that if she has to do chemotherapy again, she’ll stay in Texas. “It might be hard for them to see me sick,” she admits, “but now I’m at a point where I’d rather them see me here with them.”
And as far as support from Coffey?
“He fought for me. He’s fighting for me. He’s not fighting with me, he’s not giving up,” she says of the loving husband and father, who is working on a new album that’s scheduled to be released in February. “He keeps things as light and normal as possible and that keeps my mental place that I go to. I think the mental battle is really hard.”