Surviving "Mortal Kombat" with Gastric Cancer
Back in 1990, Ron Peed managed an arcade in a mall in Cary, N.C. So when he thinks about how he has persevered through his battle with stomach cancer, what comes to mind is the video game Mortal Kombat.
“There’s a big green bar above the screen, and every time someone kicks you in the head, it takes away from your positive green energy and puts you toward the negative red. If your life force gets below 25%, you’re going down, and that’s it,” Peed says.
“I looked at cancer like Mortal Kombat and just used the energy around me to build up my green bar so that when bad days came, I could just keep going.”
The cancer was discovered in 2016 because of blood work he had done during a routine physical. “I had no red blood cells,” Peed says.
A colonoscopy revealed gastric (stomach) cancer. At Duke Cancer Center Raleigh, he met his oncologist, Neeraj Agrawal, MD. “He is the sweetest, smartest man you’ve ever seen,” Peed says.
The first part of his treatment was surgery performed by surgical oncologist Kevin Shah, MD, to remove Peed’s entire stomach, then connect the esophagus to the small intestine. Statistics predicted that Peed had a 15 percent chance of surviving the surgery. But he felt confident because he had caught the cancer in its early stages.
“I was determined not to die,” Peed says. “It was a very fast-acting, scary cancer. Good thing we got it out of there very quick.”
After surgery, Peed went through platinum chemotherapy infusions and radiation. “It was like boot camp; 10 or 11 weeks solid, every day at Duke Raleigh,” he says.
Peed, who worked as a software engineer before the cancer diagnosis, says he got through the treatment by drawing on a mental toughness that he found when he pushed through rehab after suffering a stroke in 2008. “Human beings are so much more resilient than they actually know,” Peed says. “I just didn’t want to lose. It’s like mental combat.”
Feeling Like A Superhero
Peed says that through it all, he hasn’t met one person at Duke Raleigh who doesn’t seem to love their job. “It’s just the biggest, nicest bunch of people you’d ever want to meet,” he says.
Peed, who just turned 50 in September 2020, says he feels like a superhero now that he has been cancer free since 2016. This is an unusually good outcome for the type of gastric cancer that Peed had–lintis plastica, a rare type that begins in the lining of the stomach and spreads to the muscles of the stomach wall.
Peed counts it as a major part of his victory that he is able to eat and maintain his weight. For three years after surgery, he required a feeding tube. “The feeding tube was fine, except for being hooked up to a machine 12 hours a day,” he says.
It’s possible for people without a stomach to eat, but they often don’t feel hungry, and they must eat smaller amounts of food that is high in calories and nutrients. One morning in January 2019 (Super Bowl Sunday as a matter of fact), Peed says he woke up and decided he was going to eat. “I just started eating and eating and eating,” he says. He gained enough weight that his doctors removed the tube in March 2019. In August 2019, he was officially pronounced as “cured.”
“This is hard, but I decided: This is about life and death,” Peed says. “It’s my job to avoid death as long as I possibly can. I am truly the luckiest guy ever. I’ve been going on two years without the feeding tube and show no signs of slowing down.”
Know the Risk Factors for Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and fourth among women worldwide, according to Debbie’s Dream Foundation, which works to raise funds and awareness.
This cancer often causes no or few symptoms in its early stages, so knowing your family history and your personal risk factors is important for early detection.
Factors that increase risk for stomach cancer:
- Infection with H. pylori, a common stomach bacterium that is also linked to ulcers
- Diets high in salt and nitrates
- Diets low in vitamins A and C
- High body mass index or obesity
- Type ‘A’ blood
- Inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract
- Family history and genetic factors
- High alcohol consumption, smoking, and tobacco use
- Pernicious anemia
When stomach cancer does cause symptoms, they can include:
- Pain or discomfort in abdominal area
- Indigestion, heartburn, or ulcer-type indicator
- Difficulty swallowing, nausea, or vomiting
- Feeling bloated or full after small meals
- Blood in stool or vomiting blood
- Unexplained weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
SOURCE: Debbie’s Dream Foundation