Sometimes I feel the stars were kind of aligned…in my being diagnosed with cancer and my advocacy efforts since.
I’m in a kind of unique position. I started nursing school in the late 1970s. CT scanners were new and not every hospital had them. The word cancer often still not spoken aloud; it was still the “C word”….the “big C”.
When a patient came in with symptoms of problems in their abdomen, CT scans weren’t available then. If an x-ray showed a possibly abnormality, the patient was taken to surgery for an “exploratory”. They had to surgically open the abdomen with a big abdominal incision to see what was inside, to “explore” the abdomen and make a diagnosis. When an abdomen was opened and metastatic cancer discovered, no attempt was made to remove the cancer or to even determine its source. Metastatic cancers into the abdomen (peritoneal surface malignancies) were considered untreatable and fatal. The family (and maybe the victim) was told that the patient was terminal and had 3-6 months to live. End of story. It was irrelevant whether the cancer originated in the ovaries or colon or appendix. The prognosis was the same, terminal.
In the end I was one of those abdominal cancer patients. Interesting that even two decades later when my cancer was discovered I was told I was untreatable, not much had changed. Now it was to my benefit that I was a stubborn person, a rebel, and that I had the ability because of my education and experience to locate and read the published medical literature. That combination, that alignment of the stars, helped me to in the end survive my terminal diagnosis by 7 years now. I couldn’t take “terminal” for an answer, I wanted at least a chance, I wanted to try something, to at least give it a shot. My kids were 10 and 11 years old. I needed to stay alive.
I truly hope the Abdominal Cancer Connection will help connect those diagnosed with these cancers to the resources needed to help them deal with all of the issues involved in obtaining treatment and surviving abdominal cancers. I want everyone to have a chance. I want the Abdominal Cancer Connection to serve those diagnosed with these cancers, to be a place where they can find answers and support, to be a beacon of hope.
I need the help and input of those of you reading this blog and my web site. I want to prioritize and identify needs my organization can address for patients struggling with this diagnosis. I hope to soon put together an online survey, but in the meantime, please tell me what your greatest needs have been since diagnosis. You can email me at email@example.com or add a comment to this blog. Thanks so much in advance for your help!
A list of needs I have compiled based on the 500 appendiceal cancer patients I have communicated with to date include:
•Education for the lay public about these diseases and available treatment options. Possibly the creation of published pamphlets that could be available in oncology or medical offices, libraries etc. Public media venues promoting education and awareness.
•Education about peritoneal surface malignancies (appendiceal cancer and other advanced cancers of the abdomen) and about newer available treatments directed towards the medical community, especially education directed towards oncologists, general surgeons and nursing professionals.
•An international referral list of surgeons and facilities offering cytoreduction surgery and hyperthermic peritoneal chemotherapy along with a listing of nearby housing facilities for patients and families along with lists of insurance companies that have agreements with these hospitals and physicians
•A database of information to assist those who must travel for treatment (Angel Network etc.)
•Emotional support networks or resources for those diagnosed through all stages of illness and treatment
•Support communities and information/referrals to help those with young children cope with the consequences of this diagnosis and treatment.
•Support and information for those who live with colostomies/ileostomies as a result of treatment
•Support and information for those who go home on total parenteral nutrition (TPN) or who will go home with PEG and gastro tubes. Also nutritional support information for these patients.
•Support and information for caregivers.
•Work to increase the number of insurance companies who view this treatment as “Standard of Care” and provide coverage
•Possible future fundraising activities with funds directed towards disease research and patient support