CLARK, NJ – Mother, wife, daughter, photographer, friend, colleague; all words that described 37-year-old Clark resident Monika Guzman’s daily life until this summer. Since June, her days have been filled with words like chemotherapy, oncology, survival rate and cancer.
This past spring, Guzman was trying to enjoy spring break with her three children when she found herself in intense abdominal pain, a pain she could only describe as "violent."
After several days, Guzman’s mother suggested she ask a doctor if what she was feeling was being caused by a Helicobacter pylori (commonly known as H. pylori) infection in her stomach. Guzman began a course of antibiotic to treat the infection but the pain continued to worsen.
“I eventually stopped the medication because I was in so much pain and it wasn’t helping,” Guzman said. “Finally my husband took me to the hospital.”
The emergency room was unable to do an endoscopy to see what was causing Guzman’s pain. They suggested a CT scan to check for pancreatitis and there they saw a thickening of her stomach lining.
After more extensive testing, Guzman was told she had Stage IV stomach cancer. The cancer is aggressive and had already metastasized to other parts of her body at the time of diagnosis.
“I went from having pancreatitis to having stomach cancer,” Guzman said.
According to the American Cancer Society, early stage stomach cancer is hard to detect because it rarely shows symptoms. When it does, the symptoms can be caused by any number of things including a stomach virus or ulcer. This means that only about 1 in 5 stomach cancers in the United States is found at an early stage, before it has spread to other areas of the body. There is just a 4% survival rate for Stage IV patients, the ACS website states.
Guzman recently finished her fifth round of chemotherapy at Memorial-Sloan Kettering. While the medical team checked her tumor markers after this last round and found the number to have improved, Guzman has found herself at a crossroads.
“I am scared by my current situation," Guzman said. "I don’t know what the right treatment for me is anymore. I just want more time with my children. As a mother, you just want to be able to be there for them.”
Despite everything, Guzman is fighting for her life with what friends call “a spirit and attitude that inspire everyone who knows her (and many others who don't).” Friends started a GoFundMe page to help the financial burden caused by the expenses of treatment and hospital stays.
While Guzman acknowledges how scary this journey has been, she also sees the good.
“It has also been a heartwarming experience," she said. "So many people have shown their love and support for my family. Everyone has been so caring.”
That support and encouragement can be seen in the comments on the GoFundMe page. In a little over a month $17,205 of the $100,000 goal has been raised. But there is still a lot further to go.
And Guzman is willing to go to any lengths to continue her fight. She invites readers to follow her journey, and her ongoing battle, on her Instagram account.