It was the evening of March 1, 2011. The restaurant was nearly empty: a waiter hummed, candles glowed. In that quiet space, my mother told me my medical test results.
At age 17, I had hereditary diffuse gastric cancer.
My father had been battling this disease for over a year. Now, we learned I had inherited the CDH1 gene mutation, and it was already producing cancer cells.
A few weeks later, surgeons removed my stomach and part of my esophagus. This surgery removed cancer cells and prevented them from returning. However, as I was recovering, my dad’s health was declining. Unfortunately, he passed away a couple of weeks after I left the hospital.
At St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, my oncologist, Alberto Pappo, MD, navigated these scary experiences with me. My cancer was extremely rare. It’s an adult cancer — kids aren’t supposed to have it — and after my father’s death, Dr. Pappo became a father figure to me. When my brother suddenly passed a year later, my medical team of doctors, nurses, social workers and dietitians showed extraordinary compassion as they helped me find strength in my mourning.
St. Jude was my only constant then, a sacred place where I felt safe in my smiles and optimism even as I embraced the unknown. My medical team created a space for me to understand cancer as an illness, not a finale. I have infinite love and gratitude for them, and for those who support the hospital.
After cancer came college, and after college I earned my master’s degree in sociology at the University of Cambridge in England, where I studied the sociology of fundraising media. I’m now a fundraising officer there, thanks to the tremendous love and support of St. Jude.
A current of strength runs through St. Jude. I’ll never understand how something as scary as cancer became the stage for such remarkable unity. My gratitude only continues with each yearly check-up — gratitude for the holy ground of St. Jude, and to its beautiful people.
From Promise, Autumn 2018