Angela Bosela – Ohio
In January 2007, at the age of 55, I discovered that I had stomach cancer. I had always been healthy, but I had some recurring chest pain for six months or so. I even told my husband I felt like I had a hole just below the sternum. (Who knew that the stomach is located so high?) In November 2006, a large benign cyst detected on my liver was thought to be the source of my discomfort. It was deroofed. A few weeks later I asked my surgeon if it was normal to have pain still. He told me no that it sounded like an ulcer, and he ordered an endoscopy. I was shocked when I discovered that I had stomach cancer.
I was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the stomach (signet ring cell type) which is an extremely aggressive, fast-growing type. My only risk factor was H. Pylori. I had a partial gastrectomy (PG) at Akron General Hospital with 70% of my stomach removed. I was happy that I was able to keep 30%, as they initially projected that I would lose from 80-100%. My cancer was stage 1B (T2b, NO, MX). Although cancer had eaten almost entirely through my stomach wall, I was fortunate that it had not wholly consumed through the wall or spread to my lymph nodes or any other areas.
Following surgery, I decided to participate in a research study where I would be arbitrarily assigned to one of two rigorous programs of chemo and radiation therapy. One of the programs was the “standard” Macdonald protocol and the other substituted some other chemo drugs (EC). I was assigned to the standard protocol. The program consisted of four cycles of combined chemo and radiation treatments. The first cycle consisted of receiving 5-FU and Leucovorin at the medical center daily for one week, followed by three weeks of rest. The second cycle consisted of chemo and radiation. I had 5-FU continuously administered from a portable ambulatory pump. Also, I received radiation treatments five days per week as an outpatient. This cycle of continuous chemo and radiation treatment went on for five weeks.
A nurse would visit once per week to clean my port, change the needle, and refill the chemicals. After this cycle, I was given four or five weeks of rest. The third and fourth cycles were the same as the first cycle.
After the initial shock and despair of finding out about my cancer, I was determined that whatever it took, I was going to beat it. I was too young. I had too much to live for. My husband, my children, and my grandchildren needed me. I wanted to see my son get married and be there for all my grandchildren. When I returned home after the surgery, I took care of myself; my husband and children worked, and I was determined not to be a burden. Being active and taking care of myself was much better than lying around thinking about my problems and my pain.
The treatment was difficult, but I tried to make the best of it. I lost my hair and wore a wig. I had problems with eating and getting dehydrated, and I ended up in the hospital many times, including once in Long Beach, California, where I had gone to accompany my husband on a business trip/short vacation between treatment cycles. Note to the Long Beach Hospital nurse who bragged to my husband about how famous their morgue is (for movies filmed there). The problem was that very sick patients and their loved ones don’t want to hear about your morgue. It’s the last thing they want to see! Despite the chemo and radiation, except for the days I was dehydrated, I still tried to keep my normal life. I went out, worked, and went to basketball games, etc. Most of the time others were unaware that I had a chemo pump hooked up to my port. It was several months after my final treatment cycle that I started feeling better.
Most of my days now are very good. I still have to be careful with what and how much I eat. I must eat small meals more frequently, and even then, I still have some problems. As a result of my stomach cancer, PG and treatments, I have intermittent gastroparesis, so sometimes when I eat my stomach unknowingly is still full from a previous meal, and I have pain. I now take medication a half hour before meals which usually helps. Since my treatment, my health has been excellent, with no problems with my blood counts, etc. In fact, I had been slightly anemic most of my adult life, but I am no longer.
Choosing what to do when you find out you have cancer is difficult. One of my daughters was a nurse at Akron General Hospital. I had gone there for the surgery that deroofed the cyst on my liver. It was great to have a loved one who knew the doctors and nurses working there. The surgeon who operated on me was the one who followed up and ordered the endoscopy which detected cancer. He recognized the importance of operating quickly and was able to prioritize my surgery. We were extremely happy with him, not only on his surgical competency but with his genuine concern. However, we also are less than an hour away from the renowned Cleveland Clinic. Do you change doctors and hospitals to go to one of the very best rated hospitals or stay with the surgeon you like? Changing would probably have delayed the surgery a few weeks. With the aggressiveness of this cancer and how close it was to eating entirely through the stomach wall, I know we made the right decision. The surgery was performed on my other daughter’s birthday. Following the surgery, we chose an oncologist from Akron General Hospital as well. We did get a second opinion on the treatment from the Cleveland Clinic. The oncologist at the Cleveland Clinic agreed with the treatment protocol proposed by the Akron oncologist and said it was probably better for us to get the chemo and radiation at Akron, as it would be the same, and more convenient for us. Now, years after my treatment, Akron General Hospital has become part of the Cleveland Clinic.
Throughout all of this, I had a wonderful support group, including my husband, children, and their spouses, and grandchildren. I also had a wonderful friend who was always there for me. After I was feeling better, we began to walk together every morning. I had walked a lot with others before my cancer, but she was like me; she paced fast and long, no matter what the weather. We walked together about 8 miles every morning. Unfortunately, she passed away unexpectedly some years ago. I really miss her. I also received cards and calls from people of all races and religions praying for me. It was comforting to know that I was in their prayers.
Although my husband and children were always very athletic, I was not. I never competed in any sport. My oldest daughter and son-in-law are competitive amateur runners, and we had gone to watch them run the Boston Marathon. In April 2010, my husband signed me up for the 5K held as part of the Boston Marathon activities. I had never run more than one lap around the track, but we ran the race together. In August or September 2010, I ran my second race and then began to train. Now running is my passion. I have run numerous 5K’s, 10K’s and half marathons, usually winning or finishing near the top of my age group. My half marathon times qualified me for the New York Marathon in 2012 which was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. I ran my first full marathon at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. I typically train approximately 30-40 miles per week. Running is such a fun and healthy lifestyle. Runners have a real camaraderie. I have made many new friends and look forward to seeing them at the running club and the races. I would never have believed that I would be here now, as a stomach cancer survivor, a runner, and enjoying my life. After all those years of watching and cheering for my husband, children, and grandchildren, they are now cheering for me.
I wouldn’t wish cancer on anyone, but I believe that surviving it has made me a better person. I realize what is most important in life and do not let the trivial things bother me. I recognize all the love and support I have and cherish the time I have been given. I am truly blessed!
Finally, when I first was diagnosed with cancer, my husband and children did a great deal of research on stomach cancer. Unfortunately, there are a lot of support groups and organizations involved with other types of cancer, but there was much less information on stomach cancer. In fact, my husband found more information by reading research articles in Chinese medical journals, as it is more prevalent in other parts of the world. We were thrilled to discover the Debbie’s Dream Foundation organization and commend their efforts to provide support and information. I am glad that we were able to become part of that organization. Through Debbie’s Dream, we have met so many wonderful people who are fighting this terrible disease. I pray for all of them, especially my dear friends whose battle has ended.