Stomach cancer patient gives back to support research, patient services

Toward the end of 2019, Lucía, a mom of two, began experiencing significant stomach pain. She couldn’t eat. When she did eat, she would throw up. She lost weight and generally felt awful. Eventually, the day after Christmas, she ended up in the emergency room, where, after some tests, she and her husband, José Vicente, were shocked to discover lesions on her bones: She had stage IV gastric cancer.

“We were so surprised; it wasn’t even what they were looking for,” recalls Lucía. “My husband and I knew first-hand about the quality, mission, and the culture at Dana-Farber through colleagues and friends, and we soon got connected with the gastric center.”

From the first day they met Dr. Matt Yurgelun, Lucía and José Vicente were blown away. “He is a very positive person and it poured over to us, too,” Lucía says. “Even though we know we’re dealing with a great challenge, we know we are in great hands.”

“I was blown away at how humane the culture at Dana-Farber was, from the parking lot to the exam room,” says José Vicente. “Culture is not the values you write on the walls, it’s in the interactions you have every day.”

Soon after Lucía began treatment—few of which José Vicente was able to attend, due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions—the pair learned just how rare and aggressive her cancer was, and how little funding it received. Even with proper preventative care, Lucía’s disease had been difficult to identify.

“Knowing how stubborn the cancer can be moved us a lot to give back and help further fuel research on why the cancer becomes resistant,” Lucía explains.

To help improve care for patients like Lucía, the pair, together with friends and family, started a fund to support immunotherapy research for the disease, and to support Dana-Farber’s patient navigator program.

“Patient navigators give you the information and language about cancer that is digestible to the patient and the family,” José Vicente says, noting how much he and his wife benefitted from these resources when talking to their children about Lucía’s cancer. “It is a program everyone would benefit from, and we really wanted to support that.”

Today, Lucía is still undergoing regular treatment for her cancer, which will be a long journey, but she wouldn’t change a thing. She sometimes refers to her chemo days as “spa days” because of the level of care she receives, and beyond treatment, she has leaned on her support system, meditation, nutrition, and faith to maintain a positive outlook. This fall, her support system was out in full swing, with friends and family from around the world joining her (virtually) for the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk: Your Way to support her and other gastric patients to come. “The balance between care and research, and the culture, is hard to find,” Lucía reflects. “It’s hard to find amazing minds and amazing care, and at Dana-Farber, we found both.”