About Me

I was diagnosed with stage IV Gastroesophageal cancer in June 2018. I will never forget that day. I was in shock. I always suspected I would get cancer. I just didn’t think it would happen so soon. You can spend your entire life thinking something will happen, but when it does, you’re still not prepared for the rest of what follows. I had been having chest pains for several months. They were strongest when I would sleep at night and it got to the point where I was barely getting any sleep. I had had the same pains before back in 2014. At that time my primary doctor put me on the generic version of Zantac called Ranitidine. For a few years that seemed to be working and everything seemed okay. The chest pains started up again in June 2016. I was told to take Omperazole along with my Ranitidine for a few weeks and then to stop. Omperazole was not meant to be a long-term fix. Well, neither was Ranitidine! Everything seemed and went back to normal. Even after I stopped the Omperazole I still felt fine. December 2017 my chest pains had returned and continued to get stronger. By March of 2018 I was complaining to my primary. Congested Heart Failure runs in my family. My primary, knowing my family history, sent me an email on how to manage Angina of the heart. She also had me do a treadmill stress test. The results came back normal and said I was at a low risk for heart disease. As much as I loved receiving her email letting me know I didn’t have heart disease and had a low risk of getting it, looking back now I am disappointed in my primary doctor because I was still having chest pains and despite that I felt like she was content at not pursuing or trying to get to the bottom of what was causing my chest pains. My chart showed I was on Ranitidine and that I had been suffering from GERD. Yet since I didn’t fit the statistics of the people that normally get Gastroesophageal cancer, I don’t think the idea of me having Barrett’s Esophagus Disease or cancer from my GERD even crossed her mind. I wish it had, but I can’t cry over spilled milk now. One night in May 2018 I could not sleep. The chest pains were so bad. My husband stayed home from work and said he was taking me in. My primary was out of the office that day so I saw one of her associates. I will be forever thankful that I met that doctor. She asked me a lot of questions about myself, my family, the history, etc. She said we are going to run some more test to rule out heart problems. If those all came back negative, then she would have me get an Endoscopy. All test came back negative and then I went in for the Endoscopy. My mom has Barrett Esophagus disease. She was diagnosed with it in I believe 2011. That was the first time I heard of Barrett’s Esophagus disease and it’s connection to Esophageal cancer. In the back of my mind I knew I might develop that or be at risk for it because I had been suffering from GERD since my mid twenties. However it was 2011 and I was 35. I figured I had time on my hands and would not have to be concerned about this until I was 50. Boy was I wrong! Fast forward back to 2018. Now I am 42 and I am being told I have cancer. I have already done the “I should have listened to my gut and asked to be tested when I first learned about it”. I beat myself up for awhile for not asking. Truth be told, even if I had asked for an Endoscopy prior to my diagnosis I know my primary probably would have convinced me that I didn’t need one. I spent three years asking for an MRI on my back because I believed I had a pinched nerve or bulging disc and she kept saying no I didn’t need one because it was just my Scoliosis. One day in 2015 I go with my husband to his appointment (we had the same primary) and he complains about back pain. Guess what, she says “I am going to send you to have an MRI”. My mouth dropped and I called her out on it. I said “I’ve been asking for an MRI for three years and you keep saying no”. She looked at me and smiled and said “because I don’t really think you have a pinched nerve or bulging disc”. Guess what the MRI showed, yes, I did indeed have a bulging disc right in the area I was always complaining my pain was at. I now look back and I wish I would have saw that as a sign to change my primary doctor. Based on how hard it was to get her to refer me for a MRI, I’m pretty sure that even if I had asked to have an Endoscopy she probably would have given me some story about how she doesn’t think I have Barrett’s or cancer. A month after I was diagnosed she did call me and apologized for not having reached out to me sooner. She said she had been in the background trying to find out how this was missed. She went to Radiology and asked them how come they didn’t see it on my 5/24/2018 CT scan. They told her it’s because they weren’t told to look there and therefore only did the CT scan from mid-chest and up. The primary reason for that scan was to check for blood clots in my lungs which I fortunately did not have. I had my Endoscopy on June 7, 2018. The GI doctor had them wake me out of my lovely slumber. I remember barely being able to focus on her as she spoke to me because I still felt doped up. She said “Mrs. Couch, we found a 2 cm mass inside of your Esophagus. It is very, very concerning”. I just kept trying to focus on what she was saying. She again repeated herself about how concerning it was so I asked her if she thinks it might be cancer. She said yes. I dropped my head and started to cry. I asked them to bring my daughter back into the room. She was my driver that day and they sent her out of the room so she would not hear the news. However, they didn’t realize they had given her some paper and at the bottom it mentioned the mass that had been found and it possibly being cancer. They even underlined cancer on the paper. My poor daughter already knew what they were telling her mother and why they sent her from the room. We went home and I started telling my family and friends. I was told a rush biopsy was being sent out and I should know the results in one week. I was okay with that. Some people were asking me why it would take so long. My response was “I don’t care if it takes a week. Right now I am Noel that doesn’t have cancer. When I get that result I will be Noel with cancer. I want to enjoy this last week of not knowing either way”. Unfortunately I didn’t even get an entire week. Monday, June 11, 2018 I get to work and before I can even turn on my work computer I see the GI department number come across the caller ID of my cell phone. I rush out to the hallway and the GI doctor tells me to sit down and asked if I was alone. One of my coworkers was passing by and she sat down with me as I received confirmation that I did indeed have cancer. Another coworker started to walk pass us and my other coworker asked her to go get my boss. My boss came and spoke with my doctor. I don’t know what was said but my boss gathered up my stuff and drove me home. Instead of being Noel without cancer for one week I only got three days. Looking back now, I don’t even think I got three days. I knew from the moment the GI doctor had me awaken out of my Anesthesia that I had it. It was the way she looked at me, the way she spoke to me, and the way she kept repeating how concerning it was. One thing she did that I forgot to mention was she crouched down, held my hands (this was still the day of my Endoscopy) and she looked me in my eyes and said “no matter what this is I do not see an expiration date on you”. She repeated that several times while holding my hands tight. I will always appreciate that because that encouraged me to fight like hell!!!