Anger can close people down, cause them to shut others out and turn inward with resentment. Branny Carrasco fought that anger and found a way to use the energy the anger manifested to battle stomach cancer and to spread hope for others.
Serving as a Hospital Corpsman for eight years for the U.S. Navy, Branny learned resilience and fortitude. She had been stationed in Japan during some of her service, where gastric cancer has one of the highest incident rates in the world (South Korea has the highest). While in the military Branny started to have symptoms including abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. After leaving the military the symptoms continued along with loss of appetite, and unintentional weight loss. She was diagnosed with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, a bacteria known to cause ulcers and linked to stomach carcinogenesis. Even after her triple antibiotic treatment her symptoms persisted. Tests for H. pylori infections came out negative. She should have been in the clear. But she wasn’t.
A woman of action, Branny took her feelings of frustration and channeled them into research on H. pylori infections and soon found the link between stomach cancer and the bacteria. When she asked her doctors about the possibility, they dismissed it. The reasons they gave her varied – She was too young -The disease is rare in the United States. A year went by before the doctors listened and she was diagnosed with Stage IIIB gastric cancer. This meant that the cancer she had been worried about was really there and it had spread beyond the stomach to lymph nodes. She had a fight ahead of her. A fight fueled by the anger she felt about her late diagnoses.
The energy from that anger needed an outlet and Branny found it by working with stomach cancer advocacy groups, including Debbie’s Dream Foundation, and Hope for Stomach Cancer to raise awareness. She founded the San Francisco Chapter of Debbie’s Dream Foundation with the hope that others would not suffer as she had and that others would be diagnosed earlier.
Her own battle with stomach cancer was grueling. Given only a 14% change of surviving, Branny went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to overcome the cancer. She did well for roughly two years but then had a recurrence in 2017. As a stay at home mother, devoted to her children, Branny didn’t take it lying down. She searched for doctors to help her. She ended up doing more chemotherapy and then surgery and hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy (HIPEC). HIPEC is a concentrated, heated chemotherapy treatment infused into the abdomen during surgery. Because the treatment is directly delivered to the abdomen higher doses can be achieved while the heat may increase uptake efficiency into cancerous cells. This innovative treatment is for abdominal cancer patients without disease involvement beyond the abdomen (https://www.cancercenter.com/treatments/hipec). This treatment gave Branny about a year without cancer, but in late 2018 she experienced the telltale symptoms again and was diagnosed with peritoneal carcinomatosis, a cancer of the peritoneum lining within the abdominal cavity. Nevertheless, Branny is determined to fight the cancer and to continue to advance hope and awareness for this disease.
Both in 2017 and 2018 Branny raised her voice as a peer reviewer for the Peer Reviewed Cancer Research Program. She might have been hesitant about voicing her opinions at first, but the clinicians and scientists welcomed her at the peer review table and even encouraged her to discuss her critiques on the impact of the different stomach cancer applications. She still meets the occasional scientist caught up in their current project, almost blinded by the science to the human impact of the disease. She tells her story then, and changes their perspective. Scientists listen to her and learn that she’s not just a sample or a number, but a warrior with a voice and a purpose.
Branny keeps her voice strong even throughout all of her treatments and her battles with gastric cancer. She tells scientists and patients alike:
“Don’t be afraid to use your voice. We are all in this together to help find better treatments for cancer.”
Last updated Tuesday, April 2, 2019