Where Can You Turn for Support if You Have Gastric (Stomach) Cancer?
PJ Hamel | Nov 20, 2017
Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD on Dec 10, 2017
Cancer survivors often say being diagnosed with cancer feels like a kick in the gut. For those with gastric (stomach) cancer, that’s not just a simile: gastric cancer is both an emotional and physical kick. You’ve been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and it’s centered right at the center of your body — literally.
Impact of cancer types
Each type of cancer has its own challenges. Women with breast cancer and men with prostate cancer can find their sexual identity threatened — as well as their participation in one of life’s primal pleasures. Bone cancer makes you prone to easily broken bones; the skeleton you so readily counted on all your life is suddenly fragile. Liver, brain, pancreatic cancer — each delivers its own twist. Gastric cancer’s physical effects, though, relate to one of our most basic activities: eating.
Gastric cancer: hard to diagnose
According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), mild nausea, heartburn, indigestion, bloating, and loss of appetite are all symptoms of potential gastric cancer. But these issues are often mistakenly attributed to other causes; thus this cancer is usually advanced when diagnosed. Which leads to a serious issue for survivors: the five-year survival rate for gastric/stomach cancer is quite low, compared to many other cancers.
Gastric cancer: best caught early
However, when caught in its first stages, stomach cancer’s five-year survival rate rises to 67.2 percent; so for the approximately 27 percent of patients diagnosed with early stage stomach cancer, there’s a decent chance you’ll beat the disease, at least for five years. But no matter how long you remain a survivor, it’s important to find the help you need to deal with your cancer not just physically, but emotionally, during and after your cancer journey.
How to get the help you need
Gastric cancer is primarily an older person’s disease; according to American Cancer Society statistics, the average age at diagnosis is 69. In addition, more men (about 63 percent of the total) than women receive a gastric cancer diagnosis. This particular group — older men — may find it hard to accept the fact that they need emotional help.
There is help for gastric cancer
Even though certain lifestyle factors may increase your risk, gastric cancer seems to strike at random. And it’s scary. No one should be ashamed to seek help not just for its physical implications, but its psychic impact, as well. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to get help.
First, check with your hospital’s social services team. In-person support groups, as well as telephone support groups, are a given at most hospitals and cancer centers these days. And while your treatment facility may not offer a group specific to gastric cancer, it will surely have a program of some sort that’s appropriate for all cancer survivors, be it one-on-one counseling, an exercise group, or a buddy system pairing cancer patients with somewhat similar diagnoses.
Check with your local cancer center
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, one of the nation’s leading treatment and research facilities, offers a variety of services to gastric cancer patients and survivors, including in-person and online support groups, family counseling, and personal support from other gastric cancer survivors. Other large cancer centers will have the same types of programs.
See if American Cancer Society has resources in your area
Next, check with your local American Cancer Society (ACS) affiliate. While services differ state to state, online support groups are common. In addition, the ACS offers a number of practical types of support, including free rides to treatment, and free lodging for patients having to travel long distances to a cancer center or hospital.
Seek support online for gastric cancer
If you’re comfortable with a computer, there are a number of national support organizations specific to gastric cancer. Here are some of those organizations.
Gastric Cancer Foundation
The Gastric Cancer Foundation is a network of nearly 2,000 gastric cancer survivors that specializes in a personalized approach to cancer. The organization works with M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s myCancerConnection to connect gastric cancer patients with similar diagnoses and treatment plans. For an opportunity to connect with a fellow survivor (someone who’s “been there”), either in person or by phone, get started by calling 800-345-6324.
CancerCare is a national organization devoted to providing free information and support to cancer patients and survivors (as well as limited financial assistance). While CancerCare doesn’t offer a specific gastric cancer support group, its oncology social workers can direct you to the best resources to answer all your questions.
No Stomach for Cancer
The No Stomach for Cancer network offers in-depth information about stomach cancer and its treatment. In addition, it encourages the submission of first-person accounts: what’s it like to deal with stomach cancer? How do survivors cope? If you’re someone who wants to gain insight by reading stories from survivors and patients, this is your site.
Debbie’s Dream Foundation
Debbie’s Dream Foundation (DDF) is a non-profit organization with a multi-faceted mission: “raising awareness about stomach cancer, advancing funding for research, and providing education and support internationally to patients, families, and caregivers.” DDF can connect you with a stomach cancer mentor — a survivor who can help you navigate the special physical and emotional challenges inherent in this disease.