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Survivors Say: Debbie Zelman

 Debbie Zelman. Photo by Alison Frank Chesney of Alison Frank Photography.

Debbie Zelman, of Davie, Fla., is the president and founder of Debbie’s Dream Foundation: Curing Stomach Cancer.

"In 2008, I was diagnosed with stage IV stomach cancer.  I was only 40, the mother of three young children, married to a physician and a practicing attorney with my own firm. How could this be? I was healthy, ate salad and broccoli every day, didn’t smoke or drink, exercised, took my vitamins and had no family history of cancer. I had no risk factors for stomach cancer at all, but I was told I had only a few weeks to live. To me, that meant that my 3-year-old daughter wouldn’t remember me and my 10-year-old twins would go through their teenage years without a mother. I quoted a line from my favorite Dylan Thomas poem, I will 'not go gently into that good night,' and began the fight of my life, undergoing harsh chemotherapy, which I was told I would need for the rest of my life.

I refused to be just another statistic. Soon after I began chemo, I reached out to other stomach cancer patients to learn as much as I could about the disease. It became clear that there were no resources or awareness, very little research, and no support for patients, families, and caregivers. There was a lot of work to be done. I started raising funds for research and being a mentor all over the world. This was the beginning of Debbie’s Dream Foundation (DDF): Curing Stomach Cancer, which I founded in 2009 as the first organization dedicated to raising awareness and research funds, advocating for increased federal research funding, and providing education and support to patients, families and caregivers.

I’m grateful for the miraculous treatment I continue to receive from Dr. Jaffer Ajani and the MD Anderson staff. I wouldn’t be alive today without this cutting-edge care. Dr. Ajani is the chair of our DDF medical advisory board. He is my hero, and I’m proud to call him my friend. My dream is that, with increased funding, more treatments for stomach cancer will become available sooner and a cure will be found."

Promise invites cancer survivors to share their reflections. Email Promise@mdanderson.org.

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