Like most women today, I always put my health concerns last. So in January of 2009 when I noticed some pressure under my breastbone, I ignored it. I thought I was too young for anything to be seriously wrong, as I was only 49. I had a stressful job; I sold technology to businesses and with the recession in full swing, I wrote it off as stress. I already had IBS so that had to be it or maybe an ulcer. My husband owned his own business at the time, and things were slow. Between the difficulties with his business and my job, my bet was on the ulcer. Besides, my then 21year-old son needed to have sinus surgery before I even thought of doing anything for myself, so if the sensations continued, I decided that I would go for a check-up.
In May I was starting to have some nausea and I wasn't eating that well. I had lost almost 30 pounds which was a nice surprise, so I thought a trip to my family doctor was in order. He asked me why it had taken me so long to come to see him. I answered that I really wanted to wait until I lost 50 pounds in case he reversed the symptoms, and I started to gain the weight back again. He did a full blood work-up, and I went home to wait for the results.
The phone call came the next day. "You are anemic," he said.. Ok, I thought I had a bleeding ulcer. He wanted me to see a gastroenterologist for an endoscopy. The gastroenterologist is a friend of ours through a mutual friend and has seen my husband for acid reflux and other problems, so it was a very cordial visit. He scheduled me for the endoscopy that week.
So now it was June 2009, and I was sitting in the recovery area of the hospital after my endoscopy with my husband by my side. I was one of the first appointments that morning but the doctor kept going past my bed. People who came in after me were going home. Finally, he approached the foot of my bed and said, "We found a mass." I thought that was a funny way to tell me I had an ulcer. Wait? A mass…Cancer? "Yes," he said. Stomach cancer? Adenocarcinomaand it is quite large. He wants to do a CAT scan to see if it spread anywhere else. Spread anywhere else? I can't even comprehend the fact that I have cancer in my stomach which really should be an ulcer, but now we have to go looking for it in other places?
CAT scan results came in showing that I had a lesion on my liver. I went from an ulcer to Stage IV stomach cancer within a day, and with that my whole life changed.
Choosing a treatment should be easy, right? Follow a protocol and you get better. One prominent hospital told me that I only had 6-9 months to live and that I should enter into clinical studies as soon as possible. I was told that I would never be a candidate for surgery. I did not like that diagnosis because I knew that I was going to survive, so I found a different hospital that believed everyone was curable… a nicer option that followed my feelings.
I started my chemo in July 2009. After 3 rounds, I had a CAT scan done, and I was totally cancer free. There was no trace to be found! I finished the therapy and had a total of 6 rounds of chemo. I returned to see my surgeon oncologist in November 2009.
Needless to say, my doctor was very happy to see me. He didn't think that I was going to survive, but the chemo had done its job. It was at this appointment that he recommended that I have a total gastrectomy…a complete removal of my stomach. He said that people who opt not to have the surgery see a return of the stomach cancer within a year, and they don't know why. That was a no brainer for me! We scheduled my surgery.
On December 7th, 2009, I had my entire stomach, part of my liver and my gallbladder removed. He attached my esophagus directly to my small intestine. I have no pouch or sack. It was a complete removal in an 8 hour surgery. All of the pathology reports came back clean. My doctor leaned over my bed, gave me a kiss on the cheek and said, "Before you had months; now you have years." I have been cancer free ever since.
Having no stomach is like having a super duper gastric bypass. I eat small meals many times throughout the day. I find out what I can tolerate through trial and error. I love pizza, steak and submarine sandwiches. Spaghetti still gives me a little trouble and so does chicken but I can get through it. I can't eat a lot of sugary things but then no one should anyway. I lost 80 pounds, but have gained 16 pounds back since the surgery.
Recently, after a diagnosis of Atypical Lobular Hyperplasia in my left breast, I was genetically tested. I am BRCA2 positive. That means that although I have an 80-100% of getting breast cancer with this gene, my mutation came out as stomach cancer.
Because of this prognosis, I have decided to have a bilateral mastectomy prophylactically. All the tests came back showing no evidence of breast cancer, but I still feel that I made the right decision. I strongly feel that all women diagnosed with stomach cancer should be genetically tested so that they can make the best knowledgeable and well informed decisions regarding their health.
After living through this, I tell my story to as many people as will listen. I believe that I made it through all of this for a reason: I want to be an inspiration to others. I want just one person to make a decision to see a doctor after hearing me, or maybe I can help someone live through a cancer diagnosis. If I can help someone make a decision on his or her treatment or if someone can look at me and think, wow, look at what she went through, look at what she was told, but she is still here, so I can do it too, then it was worth it. You don't have to listen to the odds and the statistics. Stage IV is a label, a phrase, not a way of life or a death sentence. Just look at me!