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Sisters Have Stomachs Removed to Survive Cancer

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Sisters Have Stomachs Removed to Survive Cancer

Sisters Make Medical History As They Both Have Stomachs Removed To Battle Cancer.

Lisa (left) and Ruth Bendle Recover From Stomach CancerDespite their recent ordeal over the past 3 years, Lisa Bendle, 24, and her sister Ruth, 22 still have some agonizing decisions to make.

The sisters from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, made medical history last year when they both had live saving operations to remove their stomachs, on the same day in the same hospital.

The Bendle sisters were found to carry a gene that puts them at greater risk of cancer. The genetic mutation of the E-Cadherin (CAD1) gene is thought to be responsible for causing stomach cancer as well as some types of breast and bowel cancer.

Stomach cancer has already claimed the lives of several of their family and without the radical surgery, the two sisters who have almost certainly died.

But with the rogue gene still part of their genetic make up, they still face the very real prospect of further life-threatening diseases. As Lisa, a schoolteacher explains:

“Unfortunately, we now have to confront the fact that we have a higher than average risk of contracting breast cancer, and if we want to beat those odds, we have to start the screening process….

“We also have to consider screening for bowel cancer.”

The screening process involves more pre-emptive surgery such as a mastectomy, or a procedure to have parts of the bowel removed and a colostomy bag fitted. The girls are fully aware that these preventative treatments can cause other major health problems however, if they do not take action, they face the constant dread of the disease. Ruth, a sociology and media studies student said,

“Of course it hangs over us,

“We can’t lead the normal, carefree lives that most girls our age have, which can be very upsetting.

“It can be particularly difficult when people moan away about having a cold or an upset stomach and I have to bite my lip. But I would have been the same a few years ago. They are normal – we are not.”

Genetic experts at the Addenbrooke’s Familial Gastric Cancer Registry in Cambridge, UK, think that the genetic mutation first appeared in the Bendles’ paternal grandmother, who died when she was just 27.

The girls aunt passed away when she was 43, just a week before their cousin died, aged 18, and three years ago, their father David also, died of stomach cancer

“Dad felt so guilty that he might be responsible for passing on such a dreadful legacy,,But it was just bad luck.”

The girls’ initial endoscopic examinations taken in December 2005 came back clear. It was later in July 2006 when further test were taken, that the family got the news they had been dreading. The girls mother Lynn, 52, a teacher recalled,

“Even as we went into hospital, we were reasoning that it couldn’t be both girls that were affected,”

Unfortunately, the doctor came back with news that both girls had been affected. Ruth’s situation proved to be more serious than Lisa, who had only a few early-stage cancer cells, but for both, the only chance of survival was a gastrectomy – the surgical removal of the stomach.

The sisters were put under the care of world-renowned gastric surgeon Richard Hardwick, who carried out the surgery on both girls at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

When Ruth had her stomach removed in September 2006, the organ was found to be riddled with cancer. Fortunately, it hadn’t spread from her stomach into her blood supply, but had she kept her stomach, she would have been dead within a year.

Since the operation the girls have found it difficult to lead a normal life. After a gastrectomy and without a stomach, the esophagus joins directly to the small bowel.

This means food can only be taken in very small amounts. Sometimes this food can get lodged causing intense discomfort and/or vomiting.

To ensure they get the required amount of calories, the girls must eat little and often.

“When we are not eating, we are recovering from eating, or planning the next snack,” says Lisa,.

“Basically, food has taken over our lives.”

Despite trying to eat high calorie foods, both the girls’ weight has been seriously affected.

Lisa shrunk from a size 14 to a tiny size eight and Ruth plummeted from a size 10 to a size 4.

The girls also found it difficult to return to everyday life. Ruth explains

“I truly hated being so thin,”

“I couldn’t find clothes to fit me and felt that everyone was staring at me. I didn’t recognize myself when I looked in the mirror…

“[also]The student culture is geared to drinking and late-night curries – things I just can’t do,”

On the bright side the family has received good news, Lisa explains,

“All but one of our cousins has now been screened, and none of them carries the gene.

“If we manage to screen it out of our children through embryonic gene selection, this terrible disease, which has caused so much grief and misery, will be gone from our family for ever. That would be an amazing ending to the Bendle story,”

“I’m quite happy for the doctors to keep removing bits of me, as long as it keeps me alive,” says Ruth.

“Obviously, I am not happy about the prospect of undergoing a mastectomy – what 22-year-old girl would be? But I trust the doctors implicitly. If they say I need surgery again, then I would have it without hesitation.”

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