A story by Mahathi V.
A lot can happen in a year. You can receive life-changing news, go from healthy to hospital-bound, and make new connections that will stay with you for a lifetime.
For me, 2022 was a year I could have never imagined. In February, I was diagnosed with gastric cancer. In March, I had surgery. In the summer, chemo. The winter, immunotherapy.
As a PhD student studying epidemiology at NYU School of Global Public Health and research coordinator in NYU Langone Health’s Department of Population Health, I was used to viewing health in terms of statistics and scientific research, so when my diagnosis came in, I was scared about my own health and future—and where I would land among the numbers.
The challenges piled up from there, and during each setback and success, I had supporters by my side: my husband and parents, but also my surgeon, my gastroenterologist, my oncologist, nurses, technicians, therapists, and staff in all corners of NYU Langone and its Perlmutter Cancer Center.
I found it was the people in my life—old and new—that got me through the toughest moments.
It started as heartburn.
At least I thought it was. Like most early 30-somethings, I was hopeful Tums and some light diet changes would solve my issues. Everyone gets heartburn. Why would an otherwise healthy young person need to see a doctor about it?
But when my heartburn transformed into debilitating stomach pains, my family urged me to seek help. After an emergency room visit and appointments with different doctors, I ended up at NYU Langone with GI specialist Bart Kummer, MD.
My first endoscopy revealed a large peptic ulcer. A follow-up uncovered something more drastic: behind the ulcer was a cancerous tumor.
From there, Dr. Kummer and a team of other outstanding specialists helped me navigate my immediate future. Paul Oberstein, MD, met with me about my cancer outlook, Elizabeth Fino, MD, consulted with me about my husband’s and my family planning, and Paresh Shah, MD, met with me to discuss my surgery options. About a week after my initial diagnosis, we had a plan in place for my next steps.
My surgeon became like an uncle to me.
From Day 1, I felt very connected to Dr. Paresh Shah. He seemed like an incredibly kind person, and I trusted him immediately. I think that’s critical for a patient, especially for someone who’s never had surgery before in her life.
The surgery was no easy task either.
Dr. Shah, with the help of a robot, laparoscopically removed 80 percent of my stomach and 100 percent of the tumor.
He cared not just about doing the surgery right and doing the surgery well but also about my quality of life after the surgery. It didn’t feel like he was focused only on getting the job done and moving on to the next patient.
It felt like he was really invested in me as a patient and my well-being, and my parents felt the same way.
My parents were essential to my recovery, and they also built deep connections with my NYU Langone care team. When my dad had three pages of questions following my surgery, Dr. Shah patiently answered every single one and gave my dad time out of his very busy schedule.
When I suffered a terrifying episode weeks after the surgery and fainted in the shower, my parents took me all the way from their home in Princeton, New Jersey, where I was recovering, to NYU Langone’s Ronald O. Perelman Center for Emergency Services in Manhattan.
Everyone stepped up to help me through my journey.
Four weeks after surgery and a frightening bout with COVID-19, I received pathology results showing my journey was not yet complete. I needed chemotherapy.
Dr. Oberstein at Perlmutter Cancer Center is truly the nicest person that I have ever met. He’s so calm and kind, and I think being an oncologist is the perfect profession for him because when you meet him, your worries just dissipate. They just go away.
My bonds within NYU Langone deepened over the next few months. My weekly chemotherapy visits, while exhausting, turned into social meetups with the nurses. I looked forward to seeing the people who cared for me, formed real friendships with them, and even requested to see certain nurses on a regular basis. We connected and got to know each other, and I got the chance to talk about something other than my health, like discussing the latest Beyoncé album with Ginelle and Adiel.
I never felt scared or alone there. I always felt like I could ask questions and be heard.
I look to the future with hope.
A year after receiving my cancer diagnosis, I’m continuing immunotherapy and looking forward with hope and positivity. I faced challenges I certainly hadn’t expected, but after surgery, chemotherapy, and countless visits to NYU Langone’s clinics, I’m trying to resume a part of my old life: completing my PhD, working, spending time with friends and family, and planning to start a family of my own.
For me as a researcher, it’s important to know that my doctors are keeping up with the current literature and incorporating the latest innovations into their practice. I could see how much my providers were doing behind the scenes to make sure they were on the front lines of their work.
My experience as a patient at NYU Langone has had an impact on my work for my PhD as well: I’ve decided to alter my research topic to focus on adults who smoke cigarettes and vape e-cigarettes with gastric ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding, and gastric cancer.
I have tremendous gratitude for my new NYU Langone family. I never knew the extent to which my colleagues and community would go to support me as well as the other thousands of people facing cancer in New York.
When I asked Dr. Shah what I could do to repay him for his lifesaving care, he simply replied, “I just want you to finish your PhD. Send me a photo of you at graduation. That’s what I want to see.”
That’s something my dad would have said to me.
The kind of care NYU Langone provides—it really does make you feel like you’re part of the family.