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A legacy of hope after rare pseudopapillary tumor

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120912melissa.JPGBy Jacob Noack

Jacob Noack created the Melissa Hunter-Noack Foundation in memory of his wife after she passed away from a pseudopapillary tumor.

After returning from a Fourth of July vacation in 2011 with family in Colorado, my wife Melissa Hunter-Noack started having stomach pains. Within a few weeks, she couldn't hold down any food or drink. 

A gastroenterologist diagnosed her with clostridium difficile colitis and prescribed antibiotics for treatment. 

A few weeks later, she noticed some swelling in her ankles and was scheduled for a colonoscopy to check for Crohn's disease.

A CT scan showed an 8 cm mass in her abdomen, and Melissa had exploratory surgery the next morning.

After two hours, Melissa's parents and I still had heard nothing from the doctors, and I knew something was wrong.  

Devastating news
Finally, the oncologist came in and confirmed that it was most likely a sarcoma and that Melissa would need a lot of support. The prognosis was poor and the doctor said Melissa would probably not live past a year. 

Seeking a second opinion and another source of hope, we were quickly connected with Shannon Westin, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology and Reproductive Medicine at MD Anderson.

Dr. Westin immediately made a good impression on the family, and every visit kept a glimmer of hope alive.

Six weeks later, Melissa was diagnosed with a pseudopapillary tumor with epithelioid features. Normally, if the tumor grows within the pancreas, it can be surgically removed. But Melissa's had started on the outside of her uterine wall, which made it rare and without a standard form of treatment

Chemotherapy began in mid-September and Melissa completed one full round. Her abdomen began to swell, and she experienced complications.

Her health was declining rapidly, and her family and I knew that it would be a matter of time.

Cancer spreads

Then, her bowels perforated, and our family was told Melissa had one week if we were lucky.

We were impressed with the level of care that all of the doctors at MD Anderson gave Melissa, and the move to the Andreas Beck Inpatient Palliative Care Unit was no different. The time came for home hospice care, and Melissa passed away at our home on Nov. 3, 2011.

Melissa's legacy

Melissa never lost hope. She always made it a point to include a Bible verse in her daily emails and said she wanted everyone to grow in their faith through her fight with cancer. 

Her way of life and her message through her struggles gave us the strength to spread her voice of helping others. 

Through MD Anderson, my family started the Melissa Hunter-Noack Research Fund for rare/orphan tumors. Our goal is to support the research of rare types of tumors to find treatments for future generations. Her tumor, along with other rare types of cancers, will be studied as long as funding can be provided. 

With help from family and friends, Melissa's twin sister, Kristin, has planned a benefit concert for Oct. 7, at Fitzgerald's in Houston.

All proceeds will go towards her research fund. It will be a night of music  -- one of Melissa's passions -- and headlined by one of her favorite bands - Seryn.

Creating support for others

Her memories have also pushed me, along with a fellow widowed friend to start a support group, www.theyoungandthewidowedhouston.com, for Houston area widows and widowers that are younger than 40.

Our purpose is to find fellowship, support and try to grow through our experiences together.

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