Pat Campola – Florida

On September 20, 2012, my life changed but not for a good reason. That day I was diagnosed with gastric cancer and specifically a tumor in the upper part of the stomach near the esophagus.

I have been in the health insurance field for 30 years and was acutely aware of the seriousness of my situation and did what I’m sure many in my situation have done before; I freaked out. With the help of my wife and GI doctor, I pulled myself together and began the journey through what at times was a medical maze of doctors, tests, and more tests.

I underwent a sub-total gastrectomy with the pathology showing cancer in 3 of 27 lymph nodes. Just 3 out of 27 I thought would be better than 5 or 10 but even 1 puts most patients, as it did me, on the path to chemotherapy. Before I settled on who, what and where I would have this treatment I sought 3 oncologist opinions. Each had a different chemo cocktail recommendation which did not help my decision process but all agreed I needed to do something soon. I scheduled additional consultations with oncologists at MD Anderson, Mayo Clinic, and Moffitt Cancer Center.

I visited Moffitt in Tampa, Florida first and met with an oncologist that I would liken to a modern day Napoleon Bonaparte: a bit low to the ground in height but full of energy and confidence especially about his treatment protocol for my situation. He said you will have chemo 24/7 with weekends off over the next 30 days and daily radiation treatments at the same time. He claimed a 35% cure rate and then said, “Let me know what you want to do.” How could I not go with this guy?

It is now April 2014. The treatments have left me 60 pounds lighter, and with friends saying I never looked so good, I can’t help but wonder what a roly-poly I must have looked like before. But the very good news is I’ve had pet scans every six months and just two weeks ago an endoscopy, and there are no signs of recurrence or metastasis.

I’ve met some great people during my journey and especially those associated with Debbie’ s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer (DDF). Gae Rogers was my DDF Prep Mentor who helped me during my surgery and chemo recovery by sharing her similar story with me and assuring me the strange feelings I was having from time to time were what she went through. By chance I was at my oncologist’s office, and who should be in the next chair, but Debbie Zelman, President, and Founder of Debbie’s Dream Foundation. Game over! I was recruited on the spot, and today I serve as a Prep Mentor. You can’t say no to Debbie.

I know there will not be an escape from my diagnosis, and every time I’m due for a pet scan there will be some anxiety to deal with. My journey has brought me closer to knowing what’s important in life, and I now happily go forward helping others where I can, and I slow down to smell the roses.