David Reed ‘s first attempt at a gastrectomy ended in an aborted surgery – but he didn’t let that deter him. Today, with help from great doctors and supportive family, David is thriving after receiving a stage three stomach cancer diagnosis. This is his story of hope.
I’ve had abdominal pain for 10 years. Doctors gave me all kinds of diagnoses, from ulcers to acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). But all of my challenges came to a head on New Year’s Day of 2022. Early in the morning, I found myself in my bathroom, vomiting blood and flitting in and out of consciousness. Thankfully, my roommate and friend was there to help. She called the ambulance, and together, we waited for medical help to arrive.
I was shocked to discover the ulcer had exploded, and as a result, I had profuse internal bleeding. My medical team had to cauterize the wound to control the blood flow. However, they noticed some abnormalities during the process. Ultimately, they recommended that I have a biopsy.
A week later, I heard back from the doctor: I had stomach cancer. It was too early to know what stage, but naturally, I was frightened and surprised by the diagnosis. I reached out to my stepmom, and together, we worked on the next steps. Naturally, I was stunned to receive this news as a relatively healthy 47-year-old. My grandpa had experienced prostate cancer, but no one else close to me had suffered from this disease.
The next stunning piece of news came about a month after getting the stomach cancer diagnosis. The doctor told me that as a stage three patient, I should consider a total gastrectomy, or a full removal of the stomach. I was shocked, and I asked if they could consider a partial gastrectomy. The doctor felt strongly that a full gastrectomy would be my best option for survival. I recall struggling with the news in general, and being upset that the doctor didn’t have the best bedside manners. My early conversations with him felt abrupt, rushed, and uncomfortable.
Therefore, I ended up reaching out to other doctors to get additional opinions. I gathered more responses over the course of several months. The opinions were fairly unanimous: I needed to have a total gastrectomy, whether I felt ready for it or not.
Doctors move as efficiently as they can when patients have a serious diagnosis like mine. My doctor hoped that by removing my stomach, he could stop the cancer in its tracks and prevent further spread. Ultimately, I went back to my original doctor for this procedure. My surgery was scheduled for May of 2022. However, after the surgery began, the surgeon had to abort the procedure. The cancer had spread more than he’d anticipated.
Chemo and a Second Attempt at Surgery
When I woke up, the doctor explained that I would need to have chemotherapy before another attempt at a total gastrectomy. I was unhappy about this news, as were my parents. We figured that the surgery wouldn’t happen unless the doctor was fairly sure that my stomach could come out at that time. Discouraged but not defeated, I started my treatments. I had four rounds of FLOT chemo before we attempted another total gastrectomy.
Thankfully, they were successful this time. In addition to removing my stomach, the surgeon removed my spleen, trimmed my diaphragm, and a number of lymph nodes.
Recovery was slow and painful, but, I was steadily improving. However, about three weeks after the surgery, I woke up one morning feeling as if I’d been kicked in the chest by a horse.
Battling a Lung Infection
I discovered I had a lung infection. Short on breath, I felt like I was dying. When I arrived at the hospital, they found that my left lung was filled with liquid. They put a needle in my back and drained a full liter of fluid. They put me on antibiotics, but the liquid kept coming, so they had to drain out another liter.
Ultimately, I spent 12 to 13 days in the hospital convalescing. Between the lung infection, fighting stomach cancer, and fighting for my life, I’d dropped a significant amount of weight. I lost 90 lbs in a year-long period, and my fight wasn’t over yet – the doctor recommended more chemotherapy following my surgery. I did one round of chemo, but couldn’t stand further rounds after that.
At this point, my CT scan came back quite encouraging. Even though the scan was clean, it was horribly hard to eat without a stomach – swallowing water or failing to chew food well enough would cause pain.
By this point, the doctor felt I could rest for a bit. We decided that I’d come in every three months for maintenance scans. Although adjusting to life without a stomach has been difficult, I’m slowly regaining my strength and weight. I’m up to 185 lbs now, and I can’t wait for the upcoming procedures to remove my port and feeding tube this November.
Takeaways from My Stomach Cancer Experience
Truthfully, I hate having a hole in my belly. This whole experience has been a roller coaster ride, it can be scary. The most important thing is to keep your mind strong and to stay positive. Lean on your family and friends to help you out when possible, and if needed, get on medications to help with depression or anxiety.
Currently, I am fortunate to have a wonderful doctor (Dr. Woo, at The City Of Hope) and plenty of support from loved ones. Looking back, it’s been extremely hard. But I have been healing well since January 2023 and putting on weight. I deal with some pain, but not much. Breathing is still a bit challenging. Now, I am taking each day as it comes, with gratitude for each moment I have. Turn Pain into Power, and never give up!