A patient's perspective on the path to diagnosis of stomach cancer

(BPT) - To Nelson Civello, the fullness and mild discomfort he felt in his stomach seemed like nothing at first, but as these symptoms continued, he began to worry that something more serious was going on. After discussing his symptoms with multiple doctors, and receiving a number of diagnoses, Nelson had a lingering feeling that no one was getting to the root of his problem.

“I was told that I had irritable bowel syndrome and an ulcer, but when my doctors did additional testing and ultrasounds, my results came back inconclusive,” Nelson recalls. “At that point, I knew I needed to push for answers and advocate for myself. Finally, after months of searching for answers, I went to a gastroenterologist who diagnosed me with linitis plastica, a form of stomach cancer.”

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is often hard to diagnose because early-stage stomach cancer rarely causes symptoms. As the disease progresses, notable symptoms include poor appetite or weight loss, abnormal fullness or pain, vague discomfort in the abdomen and vomiting. Although it is the fifth most common cancer globally, routine screening for stomach cancer is not common in the U.S. compared to countries like Japan where a person is five times more likely to develop stomach cancer. As a result, only about one in five U.S. stomach cancer cases is found at an early stage, before it has spread to other areas of the body. Age can also play a factor, as the average age of diagnosis is nearly 70, with almost two-thirds of people with stomach cancer being 65 or older.

Navigating the treatment journey

Multiple tests and procedures are used to diagnose stomach cancer. In addition to taking a complete medical history and talking through symptoms and potential risk factors, a doctor may also use an endoscopy, take a biopsy or administer imaging tests. “Upon my diagnosis at the age of 67, I reviewed my treatment options with multiple doctors and decided to undergo chemotherapy for 10 weeks followed by a total gastrectomy, which meant the total removal of my stomach.”

Depending on the stage of diagnosis, doctors will discuss multiple treatment options, including a partial or total stomach removal, targeted therapy, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Life after cancer treatment

Nutrition plays a very important role in the treatment and recovery journey for stomach cancer patients. As a patient recovers, the right amount of calories, protein, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins and minerals are needed to maintain strength and promote healing. “My wife Patti was instrumental in ensuring I got the right nutrients after my treatments. Following my gastrectomy, I needed to change how I ate — I went from eating three meals a day to eight smaller, healthier meals. She prepared specific nutrient-enriched meals to give me energy throughout my recovery process,” Nelson said.

Meet Nelson Civello

A retired financial services executive and university professor, Nelson enjoys spending time with his family. When he’s not on the golf course, he’s a patient mentor for the stomach cancer community through Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer and a board member for the DeGregorio Family Foundation which funds stomach cancer research.

Support networks for stomach cancer

There are multiple organizations dedicated to raising awareness of stomach cancer and providing education and support to patients, families and caregivers.

“Following my diagnosis in 2013, and throughout my personal experience with stomach cancer, my goal has been to raise awareness around symptoms of stomach cancer and help people advocate for the best healthcare possible,” Nelson said. “As a patient, I saw firsthand the importance of knowing the symptoms and the impact of early diagnosis. If I had waited another six months for a diagnosis, I’m not sure I’d be here today.”

To learn more about stomach cancer, and for resources on the disease, visit Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer (www.DebbiesDream.org), Gastric Cancer Foundation (www.GastricCancer.org), or No Stomach For Cancer (www.NoStomachForCancer.org). For more information about the importance of nutrition while living with stomach cancer, visit StomachCancerWellness.com or ViverHealth.com.

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