My son, Alex, was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the stomach on January 4th, 2016. He was 17 years old, a senior in high school, and had dreams of entering the military after college. Obviously, God had other plans. Because he was diagnosed at a children’s hospital and they don’t normally treat gastric cancer, we were referred to UT Southwestern in Dallas. We met with a surgical oncologist who recommended an aggressive approach because of the fact that he was so young.
The surgeon stated that the most prudent course of action was a total gastrectomy, as soon as possible. He explained that normally, 9 weeks of chemotherapy comes before surgery, but due to his young age, he wanted to do a more thorough pathology on the stomach before chemo began.
On January 29th, Alex underwent a total gastrectomy. The following pathology report indicated that the tumor had not perforated, but two lymph nodes were affected in his arm pit. It hurt me to see him in so much pain. He had an obstruction in his bowel, but it cleared within a couple of days. He had a j-tube implanted during surgery and this was a lifesaver. After a little over a week, we went home. Home health came out to show us how to take care of the j-tube. I was a nervous wreck though, in the beginning, as I didn’t feel that they spent enough time showing me things before they flew out the door. Little did I know what a headache this part of it would be. He didn’t want to eat due to the nasty after-effects, but the j-tube was really beginning to wear on him, so he was very motivated to try and eat more. He was so relieved when he was able to get it removed. Eating was still a constant challenge and he continued to lose weight. He dropped to 81 pounds and I thought we would have to go back on the j-tube, but he slowly started gaining. Chemotherapy started in March, during his spring break.
He began 18 weeks of 5FU with Epirubicin and Cisplatin: a pump for 24/7 and 6 chair infusions. Despite all of this, he continued to try and do school as a home-bound student. He managed to graduate on time with a certificate of credit for International Baccalaureate. He missed getting the full diploma because the grueling exams were the same week as his chair infusion. I was heartbroken for him, but it seemed so insignificant at the time because he was trying just to survive chemotherapy. He had fortunately been early admitted to Oklahoma State University before being diagnosed, and the looming start date weighed heavily on our minds. How would he have the energy to do college? What if he got sick at a school four and a half hours away? What if he got sick in front of dorm-mate? He graduated from chemo on July 5th, 2016. This was bittersweet because I, too, had graduated from my own chemotherapy on July 5th of 2011 after breast cancer. He didn’t want to ring the bell. He simply wanted to put the last seven months behind him and move on with his life.