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Families Raise Stomach Cancer Awareness

November 17, 2010, 6:10 PM by Kelli Grant

Families Raise Stomach Cancer Awareness
SIOUX FALLS, SD - Thanks to a push through Congress, November is, for the first time ever, Stomach Cancer Awareness month. 

Families affected by the disease hope it will help increase research funding. That's because more young people are being diagnosed with the form of cancer that often gives a slim chance of survival.

At just 27-years-old, Harrisburg Kindergarten teacher Megan O'Connor had her entire life before her.  But on New Year's Eve 2007, doctors diagnosed her with Stomach Cancer.

“She had small blood clots and it was caused by the cancer cells themselves. They were causing an increase in a substance that caused the blood to clot. And so she had what was called mini-strokes,” Megan's dad, Lauren Tolsma, said.

That explained her blurry vision and headaches, but it took exploratory surgery to find the aggressive cancer.

“She was a very healthy, young lady and you know, it's just difficult to understand how that can happen to someone at that age and to that extent already without already knowing that something was happening," Tolsma said.

Sadly, she died just four months later. It's a disease her father wants more people to know about to encourage more research.

“It's difficult to understand and the research is slow and coming to what's actually causing it,” Tolsma said.

There's a surprising increase in stomach cancer in young, white adults ages 25 to 39. Over the past three decades, there's been a 70 percent increase of the disease in that age group.

But older adults are still being diagnosed. Doctors diagnosed 83-year-old Iva Oltmanns 13 years ago. She now can only eat small, frequent meals because she had to have her entire stomach removed; a small pouch grew in its place.

“There are times when I run into trouble with this. I overeat or I get crampy because I am hungry,” Oltmanns said.

Oltmanns made an appointment with her doctor immediately after she found blood her in stool.

“I definitely know that that was one of the reasons why I am still here because I had it diagnosed real quick,” Oltmanns said.

And it's why she reached out to a young Harrisburg woman named Megan O'Connor a few years ago. She heard her story through a friend and wrote a letter.

“Well, I felt sorry for a young girl like that that was confronted with the same problems that I was having and I wanted her to know that you can survive this,” Oltmanns said.

While the young 27-year-old didn't survive, both of the women's families are hopeful Stomach Cancer Awareness month will save others.

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