“I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Castellanos, Dr. Vijayvergia, Dr. Porpiglia, and all the staff at Fox Chase. They had my best interests at heart throughout the whole experience, and it’s because of them that I’m back to living a full life.”
Before my cancer diagnosis, I’d had stomachaches on and off for years. My husband and I work as landscapers in the summer, and I always felt good during those months. It was when we’d stop working in the winter that I’d start to feel unwell.
I saw a few doctors over the span of about five years, but the pain was never consistent, so we didn’t take it too seriously. I figured it must be due to wintertime inactivity and eating poorly. Worst case, I thought I might have Crohn’s disease, because my brother and niece both have it, but no doctor ever confirmed that suspicion.
Then, in January 2021, I developed a stomachache that wouldn’t go away. After three weeks of misery, I got in touch with a doctor who ordered bloodwork. When the results came back with abnormalities, she ordered an ultrasound.
Abnormalities showed up there, too, so I had an MRI, followed by a CT scan. When we got the results of the CT scan, that’s when I was diagnosed with stage IV neuroendocrine tumors.
Finding Hope at Fox Chase
The doctors at my local hospital referred me to Fox Chase Cancer Center, which is very close to where I live in northeast Philadelphia. There, I met Dr. Jason Castellanos, my surgical oncologist. He was wonderful.
I was feeling a little scared about my diagnosis, and he did everything he could to reassure me. He explained that my cancer was grade 1, which means it moves slowly. Therefore, while my cancer was stage IV, it wasn’t a death sentence.
I also met with Dr. Namrata Vijayvergia, my medical oncologist. She specializes in my type of cancer, neuroendocrine tumors, which was reassuring.
She told me the story of another patient of hers whose case was very similar to mine. This woman started taking Somatuline—the drug I would be prescribed, because it’s the only drug for this type of cancer—and she’s still alive and on it 20 years later. Also, it’s not chemotherapy, so it doesn’t have the side effects that come with that. I held onto that story tightly as a beacon of hope.
Because I was feeling better and my main landscaping work season is in the summer, Dr. Castellanos and Dr. Vijayvergia adjusted their treatment plan around my schedule. They started me on Somatuline immediately, so once a month, I received an injection into a muscle deep in my lower back.
The drug slows tumor growth, so I was able to work all summer. My doctors monitored the cancer to make sure it wasn’t growing or spreading too aggressively. Amazingly, one of my tumors shrank, which they told me is possible, but rare.
In November, I had surgery to remove the tumors. Dr. Castellanos worked with fellow surgical oncologist Dr. Andrea Porpiglia to remove my gallbladder, my spleen, part of my small intestine, and 22 out of 23 tumors in my liver. After surgery, I stayed in the hospital for a week.
The staff were incredible, from the woman who came in every day to take my blood to the overnight nurses. Even the nursing students were outstanding—they were extremely professional.
I remember the day after my surgery, I felt particularly gross. I’d been lying in bed for who knew how long, wearing the same clothes that I’d had on for a while, and a nursing student came in and offered to change my clothes for me and remake my bed. It was such a simple thing, but it made me feel like a whole new person. That’s how kind and attentive everyone at Fox Chase was.
Back and Better than Normal
I still receive Somatuline injections once a month, but otherwise my life is very much back to normal—maybe even better than normal. Not only did I recover from surgery in time to be back at work for this whole summer season, but my stomachaches are gone.
I am incredibly grateful to Dr. Castellanos, Dr. Vijayvergia, Dr. Porpiglia, and all the staff at Fox Chase. They had my best interests at heart throughout the whole experience, and it’s because of them that I’m back to living a full life.
Learn more about treatment for neuroendocrine tumors at Fox Chase Cancer Center.