How Do You Face Cancer When It's Chronic?

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By Bayan Raji, Staff Writer

Fourteen years ago, Julie Gomez had surgery to remove a gastrointestinal carcinoid tumor, her gallbladder, and parts of her liver and small intestine. Since then she's been living with this rare and chronic cancer that is controlled -- but not cured.

Illness affects immunity

Although Gomez, a volunteer in M. D. Anderson's Hospitality Center*, has checkups every six months, there isn't much she or doctors can do to get rid of her cancer or to prevent the tumors from growing.

As with any other chronic illness, Gomez says she's learned to deal with side effects and lifestyle changes. In 2002, she contracted Still's disease, a form of rheumatoid arthritis.

"I went from being perfectly fine to immobile in a matter of weeks," she says. "That experience completely humbled me as far as my immune system goes and made me realize I have to be careful."

Symptoms are life-changing

Fatigue is a constant. Gomez, who spends each Wednesday talking to fellow patients and caregivers at the Hospitality Center, doesn't schedule any outings or appointments for Thursday because she knows she won't have the strength.

"You only have so much energy," she says. "It's important to listen to your body, or you'll end up getting sick."

Everyone needs an outlet

Gomez says it's important to talk about her cancer, and the conversations in the Hospitality Center tend to be uplifting and positive.

"I volunteer once a week and talk about my experience with cancer, and it's almost like therapy," she says. "I think everyone needs to connect with people who've had similar experiences."

Mantra helps her make it

Life with an incurable cancer isn't all doom and gloom, but when a bad day strikes Gomez has a motto to get through it.

"I know there will be a bad day, but there won't be a bad week or month," she says.

*The Hospitality Center, a program of Anderson Network, are on-campus oases hosted by cancer survivors and caregivers where patients and caregivers can relax and enjoy refreshments.

M. D. Anderson resources:

People Profile: From Workaholism to Penguins and Volcanoes

Prevention: Patient Profile

Anderson Network

Additional resources:

Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumor (National Cancer Institute)

What Is a Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumor? (ACS)

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