In April 2008, Debbie Zelman was 40 years old. The mother of three young children, married to a physician, and a practicing attorney with her own firm, she began to experience a strange sensation upon swallowing food. She was told that this was due to stress, but a few months later, she became very tired, felt nauseous, and had night sweats and heartburn.
Debbie knew that something was not right, so she sought additional medical advice that led to a diagnosis of stage IV gastric cancer. In an instant, her life changed dramatically. She learned that her cancer was inoperable and incurable, and she would need chemotherapy for the rest of her life. At the time of her diagnosis, Debbie was told there were very few effective treatment options for advanced gastric cancer because it is relatively uncommon in the United States, and her chances of being alive in 5 years were less than 5%. Debbie began to educate herself about this disease and to seek the best available care.
Experts agree that all patients with advanced gastric cancer should be tested for the overexpression of HER2, which is found in about 22% of patients. Debbie tested positive for HER2 overexpression and underwent treatment with trastuzumab (Herceptin) and chemotherapy.
Making a Difference for Others
A sense of urgency from living with incurable cancer as well as the huge toll it took on her family motivated Debbie to want to make a difference for other patients with gastric cancer. In 2009, she started Debbie’s Dream Foundation—now known as Can’t Stomach Cancer—to not only jump-start the research critical to fight this disease, but also to raise the awareness necessary to identify it early and perhaps even prevent it. This nonprofit organization also provides education, resources, and support internationally for patients, families, caregivers, and health-care providers on its toll-free hotline.
For more information on the organization, call 954-475-1200 (office number) or 855-475-1200 (toll-free hotline), or visit www.CantStomachCancer.org. ■
Gastric cancer is diagnosed in nearly 1 million people globally each year and is responsible for 740,000 deaths, making it the second leading cause of cancer death in the world. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 21,000 people in the United States were diagnosed with gastric...