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Jennifer Higgins - A Survivor's Story

BY Jennifer Higgins
PUBLISHED July 24, 2020
I was diagnosed with stomach cancer by ACCIDENT when I was 26 years old on July 27, 2009. I had been seeing doctors for lower abdominal pain and a generalized feeling of malaise - zero energy, and a sudden onset of terrible GERD. But the pain I experienced is what lead me to be seen. I was desperate for help.

While being treated for several deficiencies, I had a GI workup done and a polyp was found in my UPPER stomach (so this did not give me an answer for my pain) by an upper GI and removed via Endoscopic ultrasound.

Given my age, my cancer diagnosis surprised everyone: stage 1 adenocarcinoma with signet ring cell features; poorly differentiated. I do not carry the CDH1 gene. No family history of stomach cancer. No risk factors. Had I not seen the doctor for pain, my story would be different! The answer for my pain came 2 years later! I had a tumor related to my Neurofibromatosis type 1— a condition that causes tumors to grow throughout my body. It causes a lot of issues, but it saved my life!

One month after diagnosis, I had a partial gastrectomy at Brigham and Women's Hospital. I had a rough recovery with decreased esophageal motility, severe GERD, and lack of appetite. While recovery was rough, I accomplished a lot! I got my Master's Degree in 2012, had a baby in 2014, and found a job in 2015 I really enjoy.

While I was thankful to be cured, the complications from the PG lead me to get a TG on February 25, 2019, almost 10 years later. This was not an easy decision, but my decision was made possible thanks to fellow survivors and a strong support network. 

Initial recovery from the TG was not fun. 10 years of scar tissue forced my surgeon to excavate my remaining stomach from my fused liver and pancreas. Thanks to this, pancreatic enzymes flooded my chest cavity and collapsed my left lung. A tiny PE was then incidentally found in my right lung. I had a never-ending infection that didn’t even respond to vancomycin! I also failed my swallow test and was NPO a total of 45 days. My J-tube was my best frenemy, but I recovered!

I live a very good life now (I work full time!), and I am very humbled and privileged to be a part of Debbie’s Dream Foundation. I am grateful for my husband who has been my rock throughout all of this. I have the best support network of family and friends. And I have a fun-loving kid who makes my life better.
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