Prevention: Patient Profile
Annual Report - 2006-2007
It's the Journey That Counts
By Sandi Stromberg
An Omaha girl and Nebraska Cornhuskers fan, Julie Gomez wasn’t happy when her company merged with a Houston-based corporation in May 1985. But much to her surprise, she loved Houston. Even more important, she found she loved traveling; though being a workaholic, she had little time for pleasure.
Her life was changed by a diagnosis of gastrointestinal carcinoid cancer — a rare and chronic form of malignancy for which disease control usually can be achieved but cure is difficult. She was hospitalized for the removal of the tumor and emerged without her gallbladder, a part of her liver and two feet of her small intestine.
"As with all who have their lives touched by cancer, this drastically changed my outlook,” she says. “I vowed to cut back my hours and to start traveling. My first goal was to see all the places where penguins live.”
After that, she set out to visit volcanoes. Recently, it’s been sporting events, like the World Cup in Germany.
But her most important journey every Wednesday morning, the one she plans her life around, is to M. D. Anderson where she works as a volunteer in the Hospitality Center. An offering of the Anderson Network, the center provides a place where survivors can listen to the concerns of those in the midst of treatment and share their own cancer journey. The Anderson Network is a patient and caregiver support organization, and a program of M. D. Anderson’s Department of Volunteer Services.
“It’s hard to talk about your cancer in the work world or with friends who haven’t had it. But here it’s normal conversation,” Gomez says. “I find it’s very healing.”
Gomez also is part of the Anderson Network Telephone Support Line. In the 12 years since her diagnosis, she has talked with more than 60 patients with her rare disease. That dedication earned her the 2007 Telephone Networker of the Year Award.
“When I’m talking to someone with this rare cancer, they say that I helped them not feel so alone,” Gomez says. “Just that human contact with someone who has had it and survived makes a difference. For me, that’s very fulfilling.”