A 20-year old Massapequa Park woman is relieved this holiday season to be free of cancer after being diagnosed with a rare form of stomach cancer.
Jessica MacKenzie's doctor first told her she had the cancer in June, a rare form called hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC).
"I kind of took it really hard," said the graduate of Farmingdale High School. "I became really depressed and worried. It was looming over my head."
The news was also unwelcomed by MacKenzie's mother Jane, "Heartbreaking, but not a surprise," she said.
That's because the MacKenzies discovered this cancer runs in the family. Their first clue was when Jessica's 43-year old aunt died of gastric cancer in 2010.
"A 43-year old woman dying of stomach cancer is a huge red flag that something is up with the family," Jane said.
HDGC is rare around the world, according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) with less than 1 percent of Americans diagnosed. According to the ASCO, southeast Asia countries including China and Japan and Central and South America has the highest reported rate of gastric cancer.
"We sent her to (college) last spring and she lost a ton of weight. She was very, very depressed. She started to withdraw from people and activities," her mom said.
Jessica withdrew from Virginia Tech University and, on the recommendation of her doctor, Jessica was planning to have a prophylactic gastrectomy at age 25. The preventive procedure involves removing the stomach. However, it meant that Jessica would have needed to carry the burden for another five years.
"I wouldn't be able to rest easy until this was all behind me," Jessica said. Jessica decided to act quickly to have the cancer removed six months after her diagnosis. Doctors Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in New York removed her stomach in November. They found 13 spots of cancer, but that the cancer hadn't spread to her lymph nodes.
The family is declaring victory. Jessica says she's cured: "I'm so relieved. I'm so happy. It's all behind me."
She is taking a year to recover and plans to return to Virginia Tech to continue her junior year in September. Jessica says she expects to live a normal life.
She'll need to watch her calories. A naturally petite woman, Jessica must make sure she eats enough to maintain her weight.
"I've been eating pretty constantly all day, which is fun because I love to eat," Jessica said.
Jessica hopes to provide inspiration to her 15-year old brother and provide him strength as he faces the same cancer. He has yet to get tested for the mutation.
Her story has also been an inspiration for other families who contend with genetic disorders. "So many people have contacted me asking for advice about genetic testing," Jessica said.
She and her mom even made bracelets over the summer to spread awareness of stomach cancer. Jessica has sold more than $7,000 worth for the charity she started called, "Beads for Bellies". All proceeds go toward stomach cancer research.
For additional information:
Jessica's Blog -- http://www.indigestibly.com/
Jessica's Charity -- www.beadsforbellies.com
Additional Information: National Institutes of Health -- www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK1139/
American Society of Clinical Oncology -- www.cancer.net/cancer-types/hereditary-diffuse-gastric-cancer
No Stomach for Cancer -- www.nostomachforcancer.org