A California mother loses part of her stomach, breasts and ovaries to a type of cancer that “hides very well”

For more than two years, Camilla Row kept telling her doctors about heartburn-like pain that wouldn’t go away.

She tried every lifestyle change they recommended (giving up coffee, avoiding spicy and salty foods, sleeping with her pillow tilted), but nothing worked.

The gastroenterologists he consulted They just told him to continue taking medication that reduced stomach acidity. Her mother, in her 30s, was healthy, so no specialist examined her in depth, she said.

The pain became so intense that Row feared he was having heart attacks. She still remembers how she begged her primary doctor to help her.

Camilla Row in the hospital and with her children.Courtesy Camilla Row

“I was crying. She told him, ‘It hurts a lot, please don’t send me home,’” said Row, who lives in Studio City, California, and is now 45 years old.

Finally, a doctor scheduled an endoscopy, which revealed the true diagnosis: stomach cancer.

“The first question I asked myself was: Can you get stomach cancer?” he said. “I didn’t know anything about that evil.”

Her ordeal would end up leading her to have not only her stomach removed, but also her ovaries and breasts.

Stomach cancer symptoms

Row was especially surprised because before her symptoms started in 2015, she considered herself very healthy.

She ate well and exercised several times a week: she met her husband, actor Brennan Elliott, at a gym. She has no family history of stomach cancer.

Row shares a happy moment with her husband, Brennan Elliott, and children Liam, right, and Luna.
Row shares a happy moment with her husband, Brennan Elliott, and children Liam, right, and Luna.Courtesy Camilla Row

After he was diagnosed with gastric adenocarcinoma in 2018, he had his entire stomach and 47 lymph nodes removed. Two lymph nodes near her stomach tested positive for cancer, meaning Row was in stage 1.

He underwent chemotherapy and had his esophagus connected to his small intestine. She had to relearn how to eat and digest without a stomach, which involved pureeing, eating portions, and chewing a lot.

Row is frustrated by the fact that it took two and a half years for her to be diagnosed.

It’s a common situation, said Dr. Yanghee Woo, a surgical oncologist and gastric cancer specialist in City of Hope, California, who treats Row.

Stomach cancer symptoms are vague and the disease is rare in the United States –It is about 1.5% of all new cancers diagnosed–, which leads to a “lack of suspicion on the part of (members of) the medical profession” when patients present warning signs, he indicated.

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Woo said symptoms include:

  • Nausea.
  • Discomfort after eating.
  • Abdominal distension.
  • Involuntary weight loss.
  • Early satiety or feeling full quickly after eating little.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Persistent acid reflux.
  • Dark stools.

The early stages of stomach cancer usually do not produce any symptoms and do not appear on examinations, says the oncologist.

Row had his stomach removed and underwent chemotherapy.
Row had his stomach removed and underwent chemotherapy. Courtesy Camilla Row

“Stomach cancer can hide very well. It’s not very noticeable unless it grows very large,” Woo told .com.

All of those factors mean that at least 80% of stomach cancer patients in the United States are already in the advanced stages of the disease when they are diagnosed, he says. To discover the disease, an upper endoscopy and a biopsy are generally required.

What causes stomach cancer?

A bacterial infection, the foods a person eats, and genetic mutations can cause the disease.

Ethnicity is also a risk factor: In the United States, stomach cancer It is more common in Asians, Hispanics, blacks, and Native Americansnoted the American Cancer Society.

One of the main causes is infection by the H. pylori bacteria. It is the same one that causes stomach ulcers and can be spread through contaminated food and water, or by contact with the body fluids of an infected person.

The bacteria penetrates the stomach lining and disrupts it, causing inflammation, Woo says.

A very salty diet is another risk factoras well as eating a lot of charred, smoked and preserved foods, he adds.

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About 3% of patients have a genetic predisposition to stomach cancer, Woo said.

Genetic testing showed that Row has a mutation in the CDH1 gene. Stomach cancer associated with these types of mutations is aggressive and can progress rapidly, Woo said.

The same mutation increases the risk of breast cancer, so when an MRI and breast biopsy in 2021 showed Row had atypical hyperplasia, the step just before breast cancer, she decided to undergo a double mastectomy to prevent any disease. over there.

But his ordeal was not over yet.

Cancer comes back

To monitor for any recurrence of the cancer, Row underwent CT scans every six months. She also had a blood test that looks for circulating tumor DNA. In 2021, that analysis came back positive.

Doctors found tumors in her ovaries that were of gastric origin, although she no longer had a stomach. She was told that cancer cells can “sleep, hide and reactivate,” she explained.

Row underwent surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. She was now a stage 4 stomach cancer patient facing discouraging statistics.

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“I actually just passed my expiration date, because when I was first diagnosed (stage 4 cancer), the longest prognosis they gave me was 24 months. So being here and (being able) to say that I’m still here, (means that) I’m still doing very well”Row commented.

He attributes part of that success to a treatment he describes as a “hot chemo wash.” Officially known as hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion, the procedure delivers chemotherapy heated to 107ºF (41ºC) directly into the belly, where it is directed to the cancer cells, Woo explained.

Row is now dedicated to raising awareness about stomach cancer and advocating for other patients.

Row is now dedicated to raising awareness about stomach cancer and advocating for other patients.Courtesy Camilla Row

Heated chemotherapy penetrates better into the lining of the abdomen and has fewer side effects than systemic chemotherapy injected into a vein, Woo added.

Row has now undergone seven such procedures, each requiring general anesthesia, and continues to receive traditional chemotherapy.

No signs of illness on scans, but has microscopic levels of tumor circulating in the blood. His prognosis is guarded but very promising, she said.

Row, who is a clinical psychologist, said she tries to stay positive and live a normal life with her husband and children. She stays busy raising awareness about stomach cancer and advocating for other patients.

“If I’m short on time, I’m going to make it count and count,” he said. “Knowing that I can make a difference really helps me feel like my illness is not in vain.”