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A Stomach Cancer Survivor’s Story
Researcher attributes his victory to
positive attitude and medical treatments.
By JANE M. SANDERS
PHYSICIST JEFF SAUNDERS endured months of intermittent vomiting before seeing a gastroenterologist who treated him with antibiotics for what he believed was only a stomach ulcer. But the drugs didn’t help much.
With further testing Saunders’ doctor discovered he had a complete blockage between his stomach and small intestine. The doctor needed to perform surgery on Saunders, now 78.
During surgery, Saunders’ doctor discovered cancer behind the ulcer in his stomach, and it had spread to five of eight lymph nodes. The doctor had to remove 60 percent of Saunders’ stomach, in addition to the lymph nodes. That surgery was followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
“I was never a heavy person, but I lost 30 pounds after surgery,” recalls Saunders, a Virginia native who has lived in Atlanta since 1972. “The sad thing was that after the operation, I was really out of it for a while. My wife and son talked to the surgeon and said they wanted very aggressive therapy on me. The surgeon said, ‘Why bother?’ Later, my wife talked to our family doctor, and he told her I didn’t have a chance because the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes.”
The doctors referred Saunders to a hospice while he was undergoing chemotherapy. During that period, Saunders underwent a CAT scan and found the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs. He had completed radiation treatment, but had to stop chemotherapy after this discovery.
“But my wife decided to take me to MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston,” Saunders recalls. “The doctors there looked at the reports and agreed that I had a year or less to live.”
Still, Saunders’ wife, Penny, persisted. She had met a person who told her about The Wellness Community, an Atlanta-based Northside Hospital affiliate that offers psychosocial and educational support to cancer patients, survivors and their families.
“I had never heard of it before, and I didn’t want to go there,” Saunders recalls. “But my whole life changed when I went there. They interviewed us and put me in a participation group run by a licensed psychologist. In this group were people of all ages with all kinds of cancer. I began to listen to them talk about the things they were doing to fight sickness. It was extremely inspiring. It gave me hope.”
Saunders’ wife also joined a Wellness Community group for caregivers.
“Those people were unbelievable because from the beginning, they gave us hope and not false hope,” Saunders explains. “It was hope from the point of view of using your mind to affect your body. That was extremely powerful therapy. My physicians were very good, but The Wellness Community contributed as much as anybody to my getting through this. The staff members nurture you. They don’t expect anything from you. It’s a safe place. You can tell them things you wouldn’t tell anybody else.”
In addition to attending regular group meetings, Saunders takes yoga at The Wellness Community. And the staff advised him on an exercise program and nutritional diet.
“Some time later, in December 2000, they took another CAT scan and didn’t see any trace of cancer in my lungs or liver,” Saunders says. “The doctor called it a miracle. I told him I don’t believe in miracles, and I don’t.”
Saunders attributes the finding to the combination of medical treatments he underwent and the change in attitude he experienced.
Saunders goes for regular checkups and continues to show no signs of cancer four years since his initial treatment. He is still gaining weight and exercising.
“I think it shows the power of positive thinking, which is so important,” Saunders says. “I’ve known people with cancer and they have been upbeat. They’re trying to help the next person. Some have died. But still something at The Wellness Community helps them. I’ve just never met people who were so extremely helpful.”
Though he opted not to undergo any alternative or experimental treatment, Saunders says he is a strong supporter of cancer research. “I read a lot of papers and magazines, and there’s always some great new method for doing this or that,” he notes.
“Nobody knows for sure why I was healed,” Saunders adds. “…. Cancer is a hell of an interesting thing why it happens, how it happens and how it spreads. It’s going to take a lot of people working on it to answer these questions.”
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Last updated: July 7, 2004