Today Ramona Suarez spends most of her free time sitting on the floor of her Doha flat playing with her one-year-old son, Hans Immanuel. The young mother, who describes herself as God-fearing and optimist, says that while her thoughts are most often focused on the future, the time she spent as a patient at Hamad General Hospital (HGH) is never far from her mind.
In January 2013, Ms. Suarez was diagnosed with gastric cancer after being rushed to the Emergency Department with severe stomach pain. After several tests confirmed that the then 28-year-old Filipina had Stage 3 signet ring cell carcinoma, doctors recommended a total gastrectomy – surgical removal of the entire stomach.
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, develops in the lining of the stomach. Diagnosis can be difficult as initial symptoms, such as persistent indigestion and heartburn, feeling bloated and stomach pain, are often dismissed for less serious conditions.
“About a month before I was rushed to the emergency I began feeling lightheaded and experienced fainting spells. I had unexplained stomach aches and my stools were black in color. My primary care doctor diagnosed me with a bleeding ulcer,” said Ms. Suarez.
Within days of being rushed to the Emergency Department, Ms. Suarez, who works as a procurement executive, was scheduled for a total gastrectomy. Her doctors advised her that recovery from surgery would be lengthy and that she would need to make dietary and lifestyle changes.
“Having doctors who could explain the medical details of the procedure in a clear, simple way was important,” said Ms. Suarez. “I must express my gratitude to this healthcare institution for not just treating me as a patient, but for also providing me with a holistic service.”
Ms. Suarez’s surgery was the first total gastrectomy performed in Qatar and she credits her doctors and nurses with saving her life.
“My doctors and nurses were compassionate, professional and knowledgeable. Words cannot express how thankful I am. I am thankful to God because he led me on the right path,” Ms. Suarez added.
Following two weeks in hospital, Ms. Suarez was released but continued treatment as an outpatient, undergoing a series of adjuvant chemoradiotherapy, a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Recovery from a total gastrectomy is difficult. It takes time to adjust to the loss of the stomach and a determined effort and dietary changes are required. Ms. Suarez said recovery demands mental and physical strength.
“I made a commitment to live healthy and to live for today. No one knows what will happen tomorrow. Having cancer changes your life, but it is not the end. Be hopeful always. Miracles do happen,” added Ms. Suarez.
Today Ms. Suarez is cancer free. The young mother, who has lived in Qatar for almost seven years, will undergo regular checkups for the rest of her life. She said her doctors and nurses were a major factor in her survival.
“The doctors and nurses at HMC gave more than the required care. From the moment I woke up from my surgery they were by my side. Their actions really touched my heart. Their dedication, and their passion, is something you cannot place a monetary value on.”