Michigan StoriesLynda Bell-Chesaning, MI In 2018, when I was newly retired and looking forward to family adventures, the stomach aches began. Having been a healthy lifestyle advocate and lifelong exerciser, I wasn’t too concerned. Soon, extreme fatigue and unexpected weight loss got my attention. I thought I might have an ulcer.
My PCP recommended an exploratory endoscopy and colonoscopy. Still, I wasn’t alarmed as I had no preexisting conditions, took no medications, and was otherwise healthy. The stage 3 gastric cancer diagnosis was shocking!
Fortunately, I was directed to a well-respected oncologist at a major hospital who, after several more diagnostic tests including genetics ( I have no markers)and a scary surgical meeting, set me on the, hopefully, curative path. After four complex chemotherapy treatments, surgery to remove my stomach ( who knew you could live without that!), then four more challenging chemos, I was declared “no evidence of disease”!
Life without a stomach is an everyday challenge! Though they saved my life, and I’m eternally grateful, neither the oncologist nor the surgeons had many details on life after stomach cancer. Same with dieticians and nutritionists. Most of my knowledge has come from groups like Debbie’s Dream Foundation.
Weight loss, bone density reduction, vitamin/mineral absorption, fatigue, blood tests, and scans are still part of my regular medical concerns and routine.
I’m one of the lucky ones.
I’m still here!
Lexy Patton, Rochester Hills, Michigan Lexy was 26 and on top of the world. She and her fiancée had bought a house and had just moved in. She was planning their wedding and had recently gotten her dream job as a labor and delivery nurse, which involved training and switching shifts from nights to days and back to nights. When she started feeling nauseous, vomiting, and losing weight, she attributed it to stress at first because of all the big life events and changes she was experiencing. When it persisted and got worse, she went to a gen practice doc who told her she was too young to get an invasive endoscopy, so he put her on Prilosec and said to keep an eye on things. For three months, the doctor did minimal testing and didn’t seem to be taking her seriously. She got married on November 2, 2019. When the weight loss reached nearly 30 pounds, and she couldn’t even keep water down, she demanded a referral to a GI doc for an endoscopy. On February 14, 2020, Lexy got home from work at 7:30 am, and I picked her up for the endoscopy. Her greatest fear at the time was the needle for the IV, which I teased her about since she was a nurse. She cried when the doc told her she had a huge ulcer that would have brought grown men to their knees. She was so thankful to have an answer and get healing. Then the doc said they admitted her for more tests which Lexy knew as a nurse wasn’t normal. She saw the results of the CT before her doc came in, and she already knew she had some cancer in her stomach. I remember the fear in her eyes so well. The next morning the official diagnosis came that she had stage IV stomach cancer in the lining of her stomach and omentum and a few nearby lymph nodes. The doctor gave her six months to live and essentially said, don’t even try to fight this. Her husband said that’s bulls**t and that they would find a doc who was willing to help. They found a doctor who immediately moved forward with placing her Port because COVID-19 was starting to shut everything down. She began chemo immediately, but she also began advocating immediately. She found info on her disease, reached out to doctors across the country, and did interviews for medical forums. Lexy formed relationships with other stomach cancer patients around the world. She also started the support group, Stomach Cancer Sisters with Aby, so others could have a safe place to share their journey, get love, find answers, and know others who could understand all the physical and emotional aspects of this horrible disease. She did 12 rounds of chemo with immunotherapy. I’m Sept 2020. She was NED. We cried and rejoiced. Although she was ecstatic, she was also nervous about it returning, and because she had done so much advocating, she knew a gastrectomy was what would give her more peace. She was advised by all docs she had consulted that since the chemo had worked to not rush into the gastrectomy because it’s such a big surgery, with possible risks and lifelong impact. To this day, her words to me that she was afraid if she didn’t do the surgery, cancer would come back, spread, and she wouldn’t be a candidate again. Because she had concurring docs and none of them recommended surgery, she just moved forward, but she felt healthy. By Dec 2020, a PET scan revealed cancer had come back. A new chemo treatment started in Jan 2021. In Feb 2021, cancer was found in her breast that was originally declared to be new cancer, and then it was changed to metastasis from her stomach. She was getting sicker, treatments weren’t working, and she was no longer a candidate for immunotherapy, which we previously felt made such a difference for her. She spent several long visits in the hospital and, in May 2020, found cancer had spread to her brain and was given 4-6 weeks to live. I’ve never seen or known someone to fight so fiercely. She wanted more time with her new husband and was determined to get every day she could. She did radiation on her brain to help with the speech and mobility problems. She did more chemo, but none were working. She couldn’t keep any nutrition in her system and struggled mightily with ascites. After a couple of long stays in the hospital, it was agreed to begin TPN in July 2020. Although the doctor knew the chemo wasn’t working, she wanted to try more because not trying it was giving up. By August 2020, she agreed to stop chemo, which was incredibly difficult. In late August, she returned to the hospital, where she declined quickly and passed away on September 20, 2020. She gave everything she had to fight this disease. Her willingness to share her story so openly, bring a community of stomach cancer patients together, and spread awareness, as well as her unending faith in God, made a forever impact on this world. #LexyStrong #FightLikeLexy #LivelikeLexy