At 37 years old, Baltimore resident Stephanie Brummitt was an unlikely candidate for colon cancer. Nine in 10 people diagnosed with the cancer are older than 50. The disease didn’t run in her family, either.
In September 2008, after months of increasingly severe bellyaches, cramping, bloating, decreased appetite, weight loss, and other stomach flu-like symptoms — and some urging from family members — Brummitt went to the MedStar Harbor Hospital Emergency department.
“I thought it was because I was really stressed,” said Brummitt, a mother of two teenagers, Andre, 16, and Ebbie, 13.
In the Emergency department, MedStar Harbor Hospital physicians ran several diagnostic tests. A CT scan showed a blockage in her abdominal area, so physicians had to do surgery to find out what was causing it.
“During the operation, we found a tumor in her colon,” said Brummitt’s physician, Gayatri Nimmagadda, MD, an oncologist at MedStar Harbor Hospital. “We removed as much of it as we could and had to perform a colostomy.”
In a colostomy, a surgeon removes part of the diseased colon and brings the end of the healthy colon through a hole in the abdominal wall. Stool exits the body through the opening and into a bag attached to the abdomen.
Boosted By Hope and a Positive Outlook
“When I tell patients the tragic news that they have cancer, they have many reactions,” said Dr. Nimmagadda. “I often hear, ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Can it be cured?’ ‘Why me?’ But Stephanie asked none of these questions. She was determined to fight it and lead a meaningful life.”
During her second week in the hospital, Brummitt’s ex-husband visited her after running the 5K race in the Baltimore Running Festival.
“I looked at him and said, ‘I’m running that next year,’” Brummitt said. “My son, who was in the room, said that if I run it, he’s running it with me. My daughter said she’d run, too.”
Word spread and more people signed up. “Within one week 12 people were going to run with me,” Brummitt said. “I was still in the hospital, but I was going to run a 5K in a year.”
Fortunately, she was in the right place.
“At MedStar Harbor Hospital, we take a team approach to treating patients,” said Dr. Nimmagadda. “The medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and others work together to decide the best treatment for each patient. At the same time, nurses and other support staff make sure patients are comfortable."
For the next year, Brummitt received chemotherapy at MedStar Harbor Hospital every two weeks. She also participated in a clinical trial for an experimental cancer medication.
The treatments were working, and Brummitt was doing well. However, in February 2009, she experienced a setback. A complication from her cancer affected her small intestine and required surgery. It landed her in the hospital for six weeks, during which she had to be on a liquid diet.
But there was a silver lining. Thanks to the treatment plan Dr. Nimmagadda and the oncology team put Brummitt on, when they performed the operation to fix her small intestine, they found that her tumor was gone.
When Brummitt got out of the hospital, she felt she had a new lease on life. “From April on, I got stronger and stronger and stronger,” she said. She finished chemotherapy in July, and surgeons reversed her colostomy the next month.
Both Patient and Physician Learn Life Lessons
Just one year after her diagnosis, Brummitt ran the 5K alongside family and friends who called themselves Team Stephanie. Even with barely two weeks of training under her belt, she didn’t stop once.
And, after watching cruise ships in the Port of Baltimore through the window of the Harborview Cancer Center during her chemotherapy treatments, Brummitt celebrated her remission by taking a cruise to the Caribbean.
“Every patient is unique, and I learned a lot from Stephanie about courage, grief, hope and gratitude,” Dr. Nimmagadda said. “Seeing her today living cancer-free and running gives me significant meaning to what I do.”
Brummitt is currently training for a half marathon and hopes one day to use her running as a way to raise money for other colon cancer patients.
“When I first found out that I had cancer, I was very afraid and worried about what would happen to my children,” Brummitt said. “But as soon as I started treatment with Dr. Nimmagadda and the staff at MedStar Harbor Hospital, I learned that I was in the best hands and was receiving the best treatments. All my worries and fears went away.”