Mallory- Stage 4 stomach cancer survivor
My name is Mallory. I’m a 28 year old mother of 3 young children and wife.
On July of 2015, when I was 26 years old, I was diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer. It came as quite a shock as I was otherwise a very healthy person with little to no medical issues. An avid hiker, student, busy mother, healthy eater, etc. Earlier in the year I had started having trouble swallowing food. There was always a tight feeling going down, but still I was able to eat so I brushed it off. Eventually it became more of a struggle and even swallowing fluids became an issue. At the time I was 32 weeks pregnant, I started complaining to my doctor but because of my age and the fact I was pregnant, it was brushed off by health professionals. It wasn’t until I was 2 months post natal and was having to make myself throw up because food would become so stuck in my esophagus, that a barium swallow was scheduled for me. During the barium swallow, the radiologist immediately saw the mass where the esophagus meets the stomach (much to his surprise) and he urgently scheduled me for an endoscopy the following morning. They had to proceed with the endoscopy using a pediatric scope as the adult size couldn’t get past the tumour. Later that day I was told I had an angry, bleeding mass and that it was stomach cancer. We went ahead with a CT scan and laparoscopy to confirm that it had not spread. I was scheduled to begin neo-adjuvent chemotherapy to shrink the mass before surgery. A few months later, after complications that involved dehydration, having a very painful stent fitted in my esophagus to open it up so I could eat, and a lot of hospital time and missing my children, I had surgery to remove most of my stomach and a large portion of my esophagus.
My family hoped that the pathology would come back confirming an early diagnosis, but unfortunately we discovered that even though we could see no spread to other organs and they were able to remove all of the tumour with clear margins, I had a whopping 24/40 lymph nodes positive for cancer and the 8cm tumour had invaded all layers of stomach and was touching my pancreas. Fortunately I had an excellent and complete response to further chemo (FOLFIRI) and was cautiously hoping that meant permanent remission with 3 clear scans.
I had a large portion of 2016 treatment free and was even able to put cancer out of my mind for that time and focus on my children and loving life. During that year we did find out through genetic testing that I have Lynch Syndrome, which is why I got stomach cancer to begin with. It’s a hereditary, genetic mutation that increases your risk of many different types of cancer, most commonly colon cancer.
Eventually the cancer did spread to my adrenal gland and lung by the end of the year in 2016, but with more chemo and radiation, a lot of support from the BC Cancer Agency, and friends and family, I am doing relatively well and have even stopped treatment for now. With pain from the very large mass that grew on my adrenal gland under control thanks to radiation, I find I have less quality of life and more symptoms from the treatment then the cancer itself, so we made the choice to stop chemo for now. I was also recently accepted into a trial offered only in BC at this time, that has given us new hope that we may be able to find a personalized treatment plan that will help control the growth of the cancer, turning it into more of a chronic but manageable disease instead of one that has a very poor prognosis. It’s a long process but it gives patients a promising and hopeful new avenue to explore.
Like anyone who has dealt with cancer, having it has changed my life. Although terrifying and exhausting, it has also given me the opportunity to refocus my priorities in life. I try not to take the little things for granted anymore and have realized that time is truly precious when you’ve been given a knowingly, limited supply of it. I’ve made peace with the fact that I most likely won’t live a long life because of cancer and in the meantime my goal is to learn to live as well as I can with it and to be open to learning from it instead of using my energy to hate it. I do hope more than anything, with advocacy for research, and funding- which in huge parts, is thanks to groups like MyGutFeeling- we can eventually find a cure for late stage stomach cancer and create more tools to be able to detect early stomach cancer. Big hugs and love goes out to anyone battling this disease or caring for someone who is. xo