Branny Carrasco – San Francisco, California
My story begins with a lot of frustration, anger, and shock. You see, at the tender age of 31 I was diagnosed with stage 3B stomach cancer. My frustration stems from feeling like my situation could have been prevented with proper medical surveillance. I’ve led a healthy, active life for several years now, so this diagnosis was completely unexpected.
In September 2012 I began feeling fatigued, experiencing palpitations and feeling short of breath, so I went to the emergency room. I was initially misdiagnosed with anemia, given a blood transfusion, and sent on my merry way. That same evening I was back in the ER. I passed out and vomited blood; in fact, I lost all the blood from the transfusion. This time I was admitted and an EGD was done as well. The results from my endoscopy showed H. pylori was residing in my stomach, but the source of the bleeding was not found. My diagnosis: GERD.
At this point, I was given medication to treat my symptoms: heartburn and stomach pain. I took the pills for a few months but didn’t get much relief. My doctor tried two additional medications but to no avail. At this time I decided to manage my symptoms by modifying my diet. And it worked! I figured out which foods were irritating to my stomach and cut them out of my diet. This method worked for quite some time. I was excited to find relief without any medication. I was feeling great, was running six miles daily, the most I had since my days in the military.
In the following months, I began to feel fatigued once again and immediately scheduled an appointment. I insisted on having blood drawn and lab tests, but they showed everything was normal. This continued for several months. I kept returning to my doctor’s office, and he had no answers. Finally, I was told my symptoms were due to the stress of being a mother of two young boys and a full-time student. I knew something was wrong, yet my test results were not showing any signs of illness.
October 5, 2013, I began to have stomach cramps and flu-like symptoms. I felt fine the following day and assumed it was just a stomach bug. I began to experience the dull stomach pain once again and of course, I again tried modifying my diet. This went on for weeks and the pain was not subsiding. I found no relief this time around but the pain was not bad enough to make a trip to my GI doctor.
It wasn’t until November that I finally decided to go to the ER. I woke up with body aches, nausea, stomach pain, and a terrible headache. A tube was inserted into my nose and down into my stomach to check for a bleed. It was confirmed that I had another bleed. The following day I had an endoscopy. On November 25, 2013, I received the devastating news that I indeed had stomach cancer.
Within the next few weeks, I had to make several life-changing decisions. In December I had more than 80% of my stomach removed to remove my tumor. January was the beginning of chemo for me. March marked the beginning of chemo + radiation. I continued chemotherapy until July 22, 2014. Now I am slowly working towards regaining my strength and adjusting to my “new normal.” I’m not going to sugarcoat it; this has been a difficult journey for me and my family. At the beginning of this, I was overwhelmed and felt helpless. The five year survival rate for stage 3B stomach cancer is 14%. Seeing this number broke my spirit for a while. With the love and support of family and friends, I was able to get through this, and I am eternally thankful to every single one of them.
I leave you with a few words of advice. Always listen to your body and be your own best advocate! I cannot stress this enough. If I had accepted that my symptoms were due to stress, it’s likely I wouldn’t be here to tell you my story. I know this is a long and difficult road, but try your best to remain positive. I truly believe it makes a difference. There is light at the end of this very long tunnel!