by: Millie McConnell
I was diagnosed with stage 3B signet ring stomach cancer on Nov 15, 2001. My total gastromectomy was December 2001. The surgeon, being new and his first TG patient I believe made the 'on the spot decision' tocreate a "pouch" from my intestine to operate as a stomach. (To date, this is a very RARE procedure since I know of only one other the same as I living in Florida who is a 20 year TG with pouch survivor). This I believe has been the big reason I have survived and done as well as I have since it has allowed my body to hold the nutrients easier. The hospital - being aware I was seriously allergic to Morphine gave me it after surgery. My body rejected it by vomiting out most of the blood in my body which forced a rush blood transfusion. This has caused me to wonder if this 'new' blood was also a big factor in my survival. The antibodies from the donated blood may have helped? Following surgery I began chemo and radiation treatments a few short weeks later. My Oncologist at the initial visit informed me to "put my affairs in order." She explained that they didn't know how to TREAT this type of cancer since it was a rare juvenile cancer at the time and decided to throw it all at me.
Prior to diagnosis, I was healthy at 44 years young and suffered from irritable bowel syndrome. When I met with the oncologist she explained IBS is only a label and proceeded to draw a stomach on the white board. She explained IBS is similar to the dashboard on your car. When something isn't working right, the warning light come on the dash - ie: oil ... for example. IBS is the same idea. Doctors today are far too busy to go into the details they should when telling their patients they have IBS. These symptoms can be a multitude of issues, chrones, Stomach Cancer, and various others where the patient must take a more active role in their health, by becoming more 'aware' of these issues. IBS and Stomach Cancer have very similar symptoms she explained thus why many stomach cancer patients are diagnosed too late.
As well, I had the H-Pylori which is in some of my family. This was a big wake-up call which I became more knowledgeable about and often share when speaking to others. My recovery after my TG was very long and difficult. I remained about 80-90 lbs for about 5-6 years. This often brought feeling of dread and despair, especially watching the 'horror' on loved ones faces. At some point during recovery, I finally just 'let go' of what I couldn't change and decided to enjoy what time I had left. This honestly was a turning point in my recovery I believe.
About the 6 year mark, I went against my Doctors advice and returned to work part time. Prior to diagnosis I was an admission representative at a local business college. Believing it would be safe since it was not a 'physical' type of job, but a 'mental' one, in an office providing information to people inquiring about courses,. I lasted about 1.5 years and had a complete system crash! The Doctor described it similar to a computer crash - my brain - affected from the chemo caused "chemo fog/brain" and had system overload and I am now suffering from short term memory loss along with other symptoms from chemo fog.
Being a certified employment counselor, Ilooked at what I loved most about my prior career which was 'helping people'. From this, I joined Toastmasters International and have just attained my GOLD level which is very high up in the process. My goal is to receive the 'DTM - distinguished Toastmaster status' then become a powerful motivational speaker.
Recently I have completed my book and am currently doing the final touches in preparation of having it published. As well, I mentor many others facing this journey ofgastric cancer and by sharing my story have offered others 'hope' where they only thought they had none. This is what my journey has given me. Encouraging others to 'believe in miracles' ... and learning to 'let go of what they can't control' - THUS helping with STRESS levels which ultimately can lead to serious health/emotional levels.
Today, I am 165 lbs and live day-to-day. My 'chemo fog' is a challenge along with 'essential tremors' which can be very difficult at times. During these hard times, I look back at my journey and realize - at least I am 'alive' and able to help others.