If Annie Flagg could do things differently, she would. She wouldn’t have waited to see a doctor. She wouldn’t have let her lack of health insurance or fear of expensive medical bills keep her from seeking treatment. She would have listened to the little voice in the back of her mind that kept saying, “Something is wrong – get yourself checked out.”

“I started feeling really bad two to three years ago, but I also have lupus, so because I was scared and uninsured, I tried to attribute all the symptoms to that,” Flagg said Monday, sitting next to her hospital bed in the Special Care Unit at Pen Bay Medical Center, where she is recovering from her third surgery. “I always had a feeling in the way back of my mind that it was cancer.”

Months ago, Flagg’s health began to steadily decline, she said. She felt pressure on her right side and in her abdominal area, but thought it was from fibroids that she had been diagnosed with during her late teen years.

“It got progressively worse and I felt weaker – I lost a huge amount of weight, and that was a huge indicator,” Flagg said.

The veins in her legs started to collapse and she suffered from shortness of breath. She went to a local clinic for treatment, but she said they felt her condition was too serious and didn’t feel comfortable handling her case.

“I finally broke down and drove myself to the ER – I was shaking, vomiting bile and drenched in sweat – I knew something was wrong,” she said.

At the emergency room she received four blood transfusions and tests were run. She was referred to a primary care physician who ran more tests, she said.

“They called me back in and said ‘Can you bring someone with you and come in’ – and you know,” Flagg said. “That’s when she told me ‘We’re quite sure it’s cancer, but we hope it’s treatable.’”

Flagg was diagnosed with colon cancer Oct. 21, and had her first surgery Nov. 14.

The surgery took about six hours, her mother, Kathy Flagg, said. The surgeon, Dr. Thomas Crosslin, removed a 10-pound tumor that was wrapped around Annie’s colon and pushing on her other organs. The tumor had caused lesions on her liver. In addition to the tumor, the surgeon also removed two lymph nodes, one ovary, Annie’s appendix and 10 feet of colon, which was resected in two places, Kathy said.

Annie said she was told it was the biggest tumor they’ve removed from a patient.

“They had a hard time removing it in one piece,” Annie said. “It was so slow growing, they said I was lucky.”

Annie returned home Nov. 21, but she got progressively worse that week, her mother said. Kathy, who is a retired medical assistant with 37 years in the profession, said she knew something was wrong.

“I wanted her to go to the ER, and she didn’t want to go,” Kathy said.

On Nov. 28, Annie had a follow-up appointment with her primary care physician, Dr. Kirsten Staples, who originally diagnosed her.

“Her doctor wheeled her right over to the ER from the [Pen Bay] Physicians' Building,” Kathy said.

Crosslin, her surgeon, was contacted and he ordered an abdominal CT scan and detected a leak. Annie was taken in for a second surgery that night to attempt to repair the leak, her mother said.

“He called me at 1:40 in the morning because he couldn’t see the leak because there was so much infection, and he put her in a medically-induced coma,” Kathy said. “He went back in the next day to operate and was able to rectify the problem.”

On the third day following surgery, Annie was brought out of the coma, Kathy said. The surgeon told Kathy that in a year’s time, Annie won’t remember the horrific things that have happened to her – she will forget it because of the coma, she said.

Annie said the last thing she remembers is Staples wheeling her to the emergency room.

“I passed out after that,” Annie said. “I was touch and go for 24 to 48 hours. I woke up in the Special Care Unit and I’m still here. My nutrition levels were that of someone who had undergone starvation.”

Kathy said it has been hard to see her daughter’s health struggles and that she urged her to see a doctor or go to the emergency room long before she was diagnosed, especially when she talked about her rapid weight loss.

“Because she’s my daughter and I worked in the medical field for so long, I just worry,” Kathy said. “When it’s your child – and I don’t care if that child is 50 years old, it’s very upsetting when you go into ICU and they are on a ventilator with tubes everywhere. My husband stood by her bedside and just sobbed. Ann has no idea – she didn’t even know we were there. I wasn’t seeing 50-year-old Ann, I was seeing our little girl. Miss Sassy Pants.”

Kathy urged others not to neglect symptoms.

“They think she had that tumor for a possibility of five years,” she said. “She just ignored symptoms. The doctor said in two weeks we would have lost her. And we could have lost her again within a day – it’s been very difficult for everybody.”

Annie said she is grateful for the support from her family and her life partner of 27 years, Jimmy Campbell. He has been working seven days a week running his business, Leo Construction, and taking care of Annie’s 13 rescue animals – two cats and 11 rabbits, as well as the other household duties, while still visiting her daily.

Annie hopes to go to a skilled nursing unit by the end of the week. After that, she’ll receive at-home care and then rest for another month before beginning chemotherapy to treat her lymph nodes, which also have been affected by her cancer.

“I’m with him [her doctor] – aggressively treat it – whatever it is, I just want to live,” she said. “I am ready for chemotherapy. I want it. Just know that it’s going to be horrible, but it’s the only way I can ensure that I’m going to come out of this cancer-free. I’m following every single thing my surgeon says to do. Those lymph nodes are scary; you don’t want to mess with them.”

Annie said that the hospital is covering a large part of her care under its benevolence program; she won’t be able to work for eight to 12 months, but everything is still very costly. She most recently was working as a bartender at Flatbread Pizza Co. in Rockport. Some local folks may remember her as the smiling face behind the bar at the Navigator Lounge in Rockland for 17 years.

Friends have organized a benefit for her, which is scheduled Tuesday, Dec. 20, from  5 to 8 p.m. at Eclipse Restaurant, 2 Park Drive, Rockland. The “Tidings of Comfort and Joy” is open to all ages and the cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children and will include salads donated by Primo Restaurant, garlic bread from Home Kitchen Cafe and spaghetti and meatballs by Eclipse Restaurant. There also will be items up for bid and raffle that have been donated by local businesses, including gift baskets and gift certificates to Jess’ Market, Shaw’s, Samoset Resort, Mace’s, The Landings Restaurant, Garden Island Cleaners, Home Depot, Seagull Cottage, The Hampton Inn, Dunkin Donuts, Laugh Loud Smile Big and more.

A GoFundMe account also has been set up at

gofundme.com/please-help-me-while-i-fight-cancer-2wfyaazk to help with bills.

Annie said the support from friends and family has really boosted her – and that the care she has received while at the hospital has been “wonderful.”

“The staff here is amazing. Incredible. I’ve made friends here. Everyone is super-caring and attentive. The level of care here I think is second to none,” she said.

Annie said the last couple of months have been a wakeup call and she has learned some important life lessons.

“I think I came to the realization that I spent far too long thinking about things that aren’t important and that were inconsequential and ignoring something that I knew was huge,” Annie said. “If I had gone even two years ago, I would have had a smaller tumor and I don’t believe this ordeal would have happened. There wouldn’t have been three surgeries. That is entirely on me. Procrastination when it comes to your health is deadly, even if you have no money and no insurance – who cares, you have to go, because it’s not going to go away. They will treat you.”

And, she said, even if it sounds corny, “Tell the people you love that you love them.

“Don’t waste time arguing over petty nonsense,” she continued. “Don’t let the last things you say to someone be hurtful, because you will regret it. Spend more time with your parents. That’s one thing I fully intend to do. They are in their 70s and they have been my rock. I couldn’t have done this without them. Volunteer. Donate. Do what makes you feel good inside. Give blood. That’s huge. That saved my life.”

Kathy said that her daughter still has a long road ahead of her.

“… but she’s pretty determined,” Kathy said. “She has a feisty nature. I think she’s going to do all right. It’s going to be a long haul and difficult. I think she feels blessed – she has an angel sitting on her shoulders.”