Did you know that November is Curing Stomach Cancer Month? Many states have now proclaimed it so.
Why is November not named an “awareness month?” Because stomach cancer isn’t only about awareness. Stomach (gastric) cancer is a silent killer with very non-specific symptoms or no symptoms at all. There is no screening for stomach cancer available in the United States, and therefore, 80 percent of all stomach cancers are diagnosed at stage 4, which is the worst stage possible, and only 4 percent of patients with stage 4 gastric cancer live for five years after diagnosis.
Another scary fact is that stomach cancer is on the rise in Americans aged 25 to 39, which is young to be diagnosed with cancer. More than 22,000 Americans will be diagnosed with stomach cancer this year.
How do I know all of this, you may ask? I was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer when I was just 40 years old. I was the mother of three young children, married to a physician and was a practicing attorney with my own firm. I was healthy, didn’t smoke or drink, exercised, took my vitamins, ate lots of salad and broccoli, and had no family history of cancer. I had NO risk factors for stomach cancer at all. Here I was living my life, thinking that I was doing everything right to avoid getting cancer, and then in April 2008, I was told that I only had a few weeks to live.
My first thoughts were of my children. I was scared that I would die and that my three-year-old daughter would not remember me. I was scared that my 10- year-old twins would go through their teenage years without a mother. I immediately decided that I was NOT going to let that happen, so I began the fight of my life. I underwent very harsh chemotherapy treatments, lost my hair, got neuropathy, almost lost several nails, spent years in bed, hospitals and doctors’ offices, and had many painful days.
However, I refused to be just another statistic, so soon after I started my chemo treatments, a friend connected me to another stage 4 stomach cancer patient. I soon realized that he was a huge resource of information for me. I had so many questions about the cancer journey that only he could answer. The doctors, nurses and other health care professionals were not as knowledgeable about the stomach cancer experience as another stomach cancer patient who had the same diagnosis as I did.
I began to look for resources and information about stomach cancer but there weren’t any. I was shocked! In this information era, how could there be no information about a topic? I also realized that there hadn’t been a new stomach cancer drug developed in 30 years. How was that possible?