My father, Rick Sabbides, received a terminal stage 4 signet ring cell stomach cancer diagnosis in June 2013. Our family was shocked as my dad lived a healthy lifestyle and was physically fit. He wasn’t overweight, didn’t drink or smoke and was current on medical appointments. My father knew something was wrong because he had been having stomach pain and losing weight, but he thought it was stress related from helping take care of my grandfather who was fighting colon cancer at the time. He finally went to the emergency room when the pain was too much.
In the few weeks after diagnosis, my dad sought medical treatment opinions from five oncologists. Most agreed on a treatment protocol. Thus, began three years and three months of chemotherapy and immunotherapy regimens. Surgery was off the table because the cancer had spread. One regimen afforded him stability to take a four-month break.
In the beginning of my dad’s journey, I was able to find Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer online. I noticed they were located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida — my family is also in Florida, but on the other coast — and began to research stomach cancer. In 2014, my dad and I were fortunate enough to attend the symposium in Fort Lauderdale. We tapped into information and resources that were available and networked with other patients and families. It was wonderful to not feel alone in this fight, and Debbie’s Dream Foundation became a lifeline. We were able to attend future symposiums in the years that followed online to keep up-to-date with current treatment regimens.
Although I was not Dad’s primary caregiver, I became the researcher and information gather for the family as he was in the fight of his life. Without the information provided by Debbie’s Dream Foundation and other patients with stomach cancer and their families, we would not have been able to “cross-reference” the medical community and their recommendations. I cannot stress enough the importance and value of advocating for oneself or a family member.
Cancer is such an ugly word, but there is hope in community efforts and encouragement in knowing we are truly not alone. My “cancer” family has become my second family. Although it was a painful experience to watch my father suffer and succumb to stomach cancer in 2016, both my father and cancer taught me many lessons, the most important of which is to live each day to the best of my ability.
Kristi Sabbides is the Tampa/Clearwater Chapter Leader of Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer and author of Faith Over Fear: One Man's Fight With Stomach Cancer