"Milkshake" singer Kelis's husband Mike Mora shared a series of Instagram posts this week, revealing that he's been diagnosed with stage 4 stomach cancer.
"Life is full of the most unexpected situations," he wrote in one post. "I never thought this could happen to me. At just 36, with three kiddos, and a wife that loves me. I want to be able to help those that might be experiencing something like this—a life altering disease full of questions and doubt—maybe, hopefully. By showing that it's possible to make it through."
Mora said that he developed "the worst pain" in his stomach a year ago, along with loss of appetite and pain in his back. Mora said he "finally decided to do something about it," adding, "it was a bit late. But just in time."
After a week, Mora found out what was going on with his health—and it coincided with the birth of his daughter in September 2020. "I thought the whole time that I just had an ulcer. With no idea what was about to come my way," he wrote. "Here I was, in a hospital bed, during the middle of the pandemic. All alone."
Mora said he was eventually diagnosed with gastric adenocarcinoma, stage 4 stomach cancer. He's been undergoing treatment, but he shared that medical professionals warned that his condition would be fatal. "They said 18 months. It's been exactly 12," he said.
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"You always see people post about how life is too short. How you should reach out to those you love no matter where life has taken you. It is the truth," Mora said. Kelis hasn't publicly commented on her husband's diagnosis.
Mora's story is scary, and you probably have questions about stomach cancer based on his experience. Here's what you need to know.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer tends to develop slowly over several years, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). It typically starts with pre-cancerous changes in the mucosa, the inner lining of the stomach. These changes usually don't cause symptoms and they typically go undetected.
There are different types of stomach cancers, but most are adenocarcinomas. These cancers develop from the gland cells in the stomach's mucosa.
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What causes stomach cancer?
It's not entirely clear, according to Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, a surgical oncologist, professor of surgery, chief of gastrointestinal research, and chief of medicine at Saint John's Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. But risk factors can include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- A diet high in salty and smoked foods
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Family history of stomach cancer
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Long-term stomach inflammation
- Stomach polyps
What are the signs of stomach cancer?
These are the major symptoms of stomach cancer, according to Dr. Bilchik:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling bloated after eating
- Feeling full after eating small amounts of food
- Stomach pain
- Unintentional weight loss
"It is very challenging to diagnose stomach cancer based on symptoms at early stages," Rutika Mehta, MD, MPH, a medical oncologist in the gastrointestinal oncology department at Moffitt Cancer Center, tells Health. "Some stomach cancers can present as ulcers, which is why the symptoms may be very similar."
The big difference between symptoms of stomach ulcers and stomach cancer, though, is the weight loss, Dr. Bilchik tells Health. "The combination of a 'stomach ulcer' and weight loss is an ominous finding," he says.
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How is stomach cancer usually treated?
Treatments vary depending on the type and stage of stomach cancer a patient has. It may involve surgery to remove the cancer and the healthy tissue around it, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted drug therapy, or immunotherapy, Dr. Bilchik says.
"Most patients are able to recover after treatment," Dr. Mehta says, although some patients can struggle with long-term impacts like weakness, pain, and numbness from nerve damage.
However, like many forms of cancer, the stage that a patient is at when they're diagnosed matters. If stomach cancer is caught early and it's just in the stomach, the five-year survival rate is 70%, the ACS says. However, if it's in stage 4, the five-year survival rate is 6%.
When should you see your doctor about stomach pain?
"Pretty much anyone with stomach pain that doesn't go away with antacids or dietary changes should see a doctor," Dr. Bilchik. And, if you're having stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and weight loss, you should also seek help from a medical professional, he says. "The single most important point about when to see a doctor is if you have stomach discomfort or symptoms that persist and are different to what you've experienced in the past," Dr. Bilchik says.
"There is no wrong time to see your doctor," Dr. Mehta says says. "If your symptoms persist and do not resolve, then definitely talk to your doctor about it."
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