Brittany Defenderfer – Washington, D.C.

I was diagnosed with stage one non-CDH1 gastric adenocarcinoma with signet ring cells on June 16, 2021. This diagnosis came as a complete incidental finding and, of course, shock!

In 2016 I was diagnosed with the stomach bacteria H Pylori after having an upper endoscopy to evaluate the cause of belching and acid reflux. To treat this, I received three rounds of antibiotics to eradicate the bacteria, which was effective. I no longer had any symptoms and moved on with my life. Fast forward to late May 2021. I was eating quickly while working as a nurse in the hospital. I began to choke on the fish and potatoes I was eating and had to have the Heimlich maneuver performed. This scared me so much, and I decided to call my former Gastroenterologist right away. She informed me that many people choke for no known reason and end up being okay. I was not satisfied with this answer, and I insisted that she perform an upper endoscopy. It was during this test that she found a one-centimeter raised lesion in the distal (bottom) part of my stomach. The results came back the very next day, and my path to a cure began.

As a Critical Care Registered Nurse, I have encountered many patients with various types of cancer, but I never recalled caring for someone with gastric cancer. I knew very little about this cancer at the time I was diagnosed. That all changed within 48 hours of my diagnosis. I quickly joined No Stomach for Cancer, Debbie’s Dream Foundation, and Hope for Stomach Cancer to learn more. The knowledge on these sites in invaluable. I scoured the internet, reading study after study. I navigated consults with three separate gastric surgical oncologists within 72 hours of my diagnosis. I attribute this quick action to understanding the medical field and having easy access to all my medical records in the various patient portals. I encourage everyone to utilize their patient portal as well. All medical records are released to you as soon as they are released to your medical team, which is the law in the United States.

The first two consults I had were very hard to hear. Both surgeons informed me I would need four rounds of chemotherapy prior to a partial or total gastrectomy, followed by four more rounds of chemotherapy. They were ready to place a port in me and begin treatment that same week. This is the current standard treatment for gastric cancer in the U.S. I was terrified and could not believe it was possible that this tiny  lesion could require such aggressive treatment.

My third consult was with Dr. Sam Yoon, who was, at the time, with Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York City. He was familiar with the protocols utilized in most Asian countries where gastric cancer is much more prevalent and often found in early stages due to early detection and surveillance. He set me up for further testing within 2 weeks, which confirmed the cancer was likely to be stage one. He said we could proceed with a laparoscopic subtotal gastrectomy with a Roux En Y Gastric Bypass right away. A little over a week after surgery, I received a call from Dr. Yoon stating I had clear margins and all lymph nodes removed were negative for cancer! I did not need any further treatment! What a miracle and true blessing. I have so much gratitude for Dr. Yoon and all my medical team members. Recovery was a challenge. While in the hospital, I did well. I had very little pain, and I was up and walking about two hours after surgery. Once home, I began to have a lot of challenges eating, and I suffered from dumping syndrome after eating too much or too many carbohydrates. This continues to this day, but I am able to control it with diet.

Speaking of diet….everyone losses weight after having all or part of their stomach removed. I was fortunate enough to only lose around four pounds from diagnosis to recovery. I attribute this to adding MCT (medium change triglycerides) oil to most of the foods I ate. MCT oil is essential fat from coconuts and is very high in calories. One tablespoon of the oil is 130 calories.

Check out my smoothie bowl recipe I often ate to help maintain my weight.

Please reach out to me if you ever have any questions about my journey. I am doing very well now, gaining weight and back to lifting weights in the gym!