My Road To Awareness

by Jessica McAuliffe


Jessica is a wife and mother of five children. She is an attorney and owns her own photography studio. She lost her mother to stomach cancer in January 2005. Since then she has been trying to advocate for awareness and to spread the word so others have the opportunity for a better prognosis than her mother did so many years ago.

I didn’t know anything about Stomach Cancer that summer of 2004 when my mom was first diagnosed with stomach cancer. When my mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer I filled my heart with hope for survival. I did not know there was only a 4% survival rate for those diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer. I chose to remain in the dark instead of becoming informed. I chose to believe all cancers were alike and that my mom could beat this cancer.

My mom was first diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer the summer of 2004. After 5 months of surgery, infection, and holes that would not heal, she lost her battle in January of 2005. The cancer spread too fast and her body just could not take any more.

I was with her the day she received her initial diagnosis. She had gone in for what we thought was a routine endoscopy because she was having a lot of gastrointestinal pain. Cancer is definitely not what I expected. The nurse asked me if I was okay and I did not know what to say. I was in shock and was still trying to process the ramifications of this diagnosis. To answer that nurse now: No, I was not okay, I was scared and did not know what or how to feel at the time.

I had just heard the scary word cancer. Though I was scared, I was convinced my mom would still be around for many more years. At the time I knew absolutely nothing about stomach cancer. I didn’t know she had such a slim chance for survival. If the doctors discussed the survival rates with my mom she never let on that it did not look good for her. She tried to remain positive and tried to convince us that all would be well.

I trusted my mom. I had hope she would beat the cancer. She went in for surgery and I was convinced she would come out of it just fine. She had 2/3 of her stomach and 1/3 of her esophagus removed. I figured they were able to remove all of the cancer. My mom still never let on that things did not look good for her.

In the beginning I did not realize how advanced the cancer already was. After all, she had struggled for years with gastrointestinal problems. She was supposed to have surgery and chemotherapy and then be fine. She was supposed to come home to spend many more years with us. How utterly mistaken I was.

After surgery she met complication after complication. The cancer was eating her esophagus, creating holes that would not or could not heal. Her body was too weak for chemotherapy. She finally came home to be with us Thanksgiving of 2004. When the doctor sent her home, I thought that meant she was on the mend.

What I didn’t realize at that point was that the doctors had done all they could do. The cancer was spreading too fast. Despite the fact the doctors pretty much sent my mom home to die she remained positive when she was around all of us. She knew it was a waiting game. What she didn’t know, and what the doctors didn’t know was exactly how much life she had left.

In January 2005 my mom went back to the hospital. It was then that they gave her the diagnosis of a couple weeks to a couple of months. Two days later she passed away with my dad at her side. It has been almost 10 years since she lost her battle. I still feel the sting of loss each day. I wish I would have taken time then to find out more and to prepare myself for what was likely to come. In the end it was harder to be misinformed and unaware.

I was not prepared for the possibility that my mom would not survive. Throughout the ordeal I found myself swept up in my mom’s enthusiasm for the positive. She was so determined that we think all was going to be okay. It isn’t until recently that I learned more about stomach cancer. Because stomach cancer can be hereditary my children and I are at risk. I am now more aware of the signs, symptoms, and risks than I was at the time my mom was battling stomach cancer.