No stomach for cancer

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If you knew the date you were going to die years before its arrival, would you live your life differently?

Most of us have given thought to this question at some point in our lives. However, what if, rather than knowing the date of your death, you knew you were virtually guaranteed of being diagnosed with a deadly disease? To what extent would you change your life?

The pink ribbon has become the international symbol for breast cancer awareness.
The pink ribbon has become the international symbol for breast cancer awareness.

Not all cancers are created equal. Some, like breast cancer, gain more attention than others and it has nothing to do with the death rate. Let’s face it, Americans have been brainwashed into thinking breasts really matter. Thanks to magazines, television, film, and now the internet, we are inundated with perfect looking breasts on women of all adult ages If you do not believe me, ask yourself where Helen Miren or Jane Fonda got theirs.

Many men like to think of themselves as connoisseurs of breasts and love to talk about, study, and analyze them to no end. Women learn early how to use cleavage to get men to do what they want and it is now almost a crime for women to allow gravity to take hold of their breasts when there are so many options available with plastic surgery.

When Angelina Jolie went public with her announcement of having had a double mastectomy because she tested positive for the BRCA gene mutation, there was a great deal of discussion over whether or not she did the right thing. Did she go too far to prevent a later cancer diagnosis or did she beat the disease before it could get hold of her? he later had her ovaries removed for the same reason. In the end, most people applauded her for her actions because all she wanted was to be able to stick around in this world for her kids as long as possible.

But what if instead of testing positive for the BRCA gene mutation, Angelina Jolie tested positive for the CDH1 gene mutation? What if instead of being virtually assured of getting breast cancer, she was instead likely looking at a guarantee of getting stomach cancer? Would Jolie have gone so far as to have her stomach removed?

Each year, about 25,000 Americans are diagnosed with stomach cancer and almost half that many will die from the disease. Stomach cancer is the second leading cause for cancer deaths worldwide and is third in our country behind lung and liver cancer. Sixty percent of those diagnosed with stomach cancer will be 65 or older and they will only have a 28 percent chance of seeing the five year survival mark primarily because stomach cancer (aka gastric cancer) is not usually diagnosed until it is in a more advanced stage.

Those on going stomach issues you have for years and years that your doctor tells you is nothing more than indigestion or nothing to be concerned about may well be something much worse and not diagnosed until it is too late.

Only a very small percentage of people carry the CDH1 gene mutation. Those who do all too often find it runs throughout their family and they usually do not find this out until after losing a loved one or two to the disease. All it takes to find out is a simple blood test, but insurance companies are not likely to pick up the cost since it is so rare.

Not everyone with a sensitive stomach who gets the blood test and receives a negative result is in the clear of stomach cancer. It just means you do not carry the mutation. Most primary care physicians do not even know about the test. I asked mine about it recently while getting my physical and she said, “I have to admit, I have never heard of this test.” She did, however, know plenty about the BRCA test.

This just goes to show how little we know about one of the major cancer killers out there. While breast cancer has captured the month of October and painted the world pink, you are probably unaware that November is designated Stomach Cancer Awareness Month.

A small non profit group called No Stomach For Cancer struggles to gain mass attention to their cause despite the overwhelming number of Americans who either have a loved one or know of someone who has fought stomach, colon, rectal, or pancreatic cancer. Its members include both survivors of the disease and people who, when told they carry the CDH1 gene mutation, had their stomach removed before receiving a cancer diagnosis.

Beth Lambert is someone who, along with two of her siblings, was diagnosed with the CDH1 gene mutation and opted for stomach removal. Like many others, it took losing a brother to the disease before receiving the necessary blood test. She also lost her mother to colon cancer. While she does not have to worry about a stomach cancer diagnosis, her life is not what it was before her surgery.

Imagine forgetting to eat for a few days because you do not get hungry. Try learning to eat all over again because you no longer can eat a normal size serving of food or finding out the hard way what you ate no longer agrees with you. See what it is like to feel run down and lack energy because you are not absorbing enough calories. These are just some of the consequences you accept when you choose to have your stomach removed before cancer makes the choice for you.

Sure, breast cancer is the “sexy” cancer to jump on board and support. However, I would urge readers to research and see what other cancers there are and look at the funding they receive for early diagnosis or treatments. Check out websites like No Stomach for Cancer and read about the grass roots efforts of people like Beth Lambert who seek to bring more attention, funding, and hopefully a cure to a disease no one wants.