My story begins in the Spring 2007 with my first symptoms. I first started to feel an increased amount of fatigue and was having small amounts of pain while swallowing food. Occasional reflux sent me to my primary care physician where he initially diagnosed as stress and gave me a proton pump inhibitor (PPI) to help with the reflux. A few months later I went back with worse symptoms and was tested for an ulcer that came back negative so gave me more of the PPI. Being 37 years old, having a new baby, new job and other stresses in my life were red flags for stress, but not stomach cancer.
January of 2008 I had had a rough night and needed to see the doctor but it was too early in the morning. I decided to go to the ER where over the next 8 hours they discovered I was anemic, then a chest scan showed a mass at the GE junction to my stomach, to having an endoscopy conforming cancer. I had a partially swollen pancreas so they were unsure if it was stomach, pancreatic or both. I was diagnosed with stage 3b stomach cancer, and needed to have my stomach, spleen, half of my pancreas, and a third of my esophagus removed. The next 3 weeks were filled with hospital, oncology, and GI doctor meetings before the surgery date was set for February 6th.
Surgery appeared to go smoothly but within 48 hours I had become septic and was announced “Code Blue” ending in an emergency surgery to fix a leak. Waking up 7 days later after being sedated and on a breathing tube was a big challenge. From pain, hallucinations to huge amounts of pain meds, I was finally released from the hospital 30 days after and entered the world as a wounded and addicted to pain med 38 year old man. Married, and with a 1 year old daughter, there was a lot of stress and pressure on everyone.
Chemo and radiation followed my surgery and I proceeded to drop down to 95 pounds. This was too much weight loss, so I had to start on TPN through a picc line inserted in my arm just to get nutrients. The coming year was an extremely difficult one with ER visits for dehydration, bowel blockage, CT and PET scans and a pain med addiction that was getting out of control. The fear of dying coupled with my addiction impacted my marriage and we ended up getting a divorce and I had to go to rehab twice.
So, even though the first 5 years were miserable, these past 5 years have been the best ever. I no longer get scans or even see my doctor very much. I got remarried to a high school friend this past February, my daughter is 11 and we have to most amazing relationship and I’m as happy as I’ve ever been. Not to say that I’m all that great or life is easy, but I’ve accepted my skinny body, discomfort eating and all of life’s smaller challenges that allows me to be extremely grateful and happy in the present.
I’ve been to DC meeting with congress and senate members helping support gastric cancer and Debbie’s Dream Foundation, I am part of the mentor program and always willing to help giving hope of inspiration to those struggling, whether early on or even after years of recovery.
Steve can be contacted by email S_melen@hotmail.com