Written by: Guest Blogger Emma Smoler
I will never forget St. Patrick’s Day, 2014. In addition to being my favorite holiday, I had an out-of-county court date. Having taken some time off in the past year from my busy practice as a trial attorney, this court date marked a return of sorts, to the career I loved. Driving out to DuPage early that morning, I noticed a huge moon ducking behind the horizon as the sun came up. I cranked my music and smiled.
What I couldn’t ignore, though, was the gnawing pain that had been developing in my abdomen. I figured it was just nerves, as I’d experienced some digestive issues in the past year. As a busy mom and attorney, I just chalked it up to stress.
However, by the time I left the courthouse, I knew something was not right. I could barely make it to my car, and on the drive home, I had to pull over just to catch my breath. My doctor sent me straight to the emergency room. I reluctantly went. As I sat in the hospital gown, I flipped through my files, snapped a picture of the court order, emailed my office, texted with friends. I could never have imagined the news I was about to hear.
“The scans indicate you have a mass in your abdomen.”
Those ominous words turned into more words, turned into more tests, turned into a quick surgery plan, and ultimately, a diagnosis of GIST, a rare sarcoma that affects the smooth muscle cells in the wall of the stomach.
The first time I heard GIST, it sounded like a foreign language. I scoured the internet, as one does, only to find confusion and prognoses that frightened me. Everywhere I looked pointed me to elderly folks with GIST. I just wanted to see one person like me, a young, vibrant, otherwise healthy individual who survived GIST.
A friend told me about Imerman Angels. I looked at the website and must have hovered my mouse over the “request support” button multiple times, until finally, I clicked it. I filled in the information, closed my browser, and waited.
Shortly thereafter, I got a call that connected me with another GIST patient. I was so surprised. First of all, GIST is extremely rare. An estimated 4000-5000 people per year are diagnosed with GIST. Secondly, GIST is even more rare in young people such as myself. I was curious who could possibly share my diagnosis.
Now, I am not a superstitious person, but my Imerman Angel match can only be described as kismet. My mentor angel was diagnosed with GIST when she was exactly my age. She had the same surgery, even performed by the same surgeon. My surgery was on April 10, and hers had been on April 11. She was also an attorney, who had two young kids. Just like me. The match could not have been more perfect.
My Imerman Angel came to visit me in the hospital after my surgery. I was feeling lousy, and her presence gave me such joy. She bounded into the room, opened the curtains, and gave me the best medicine I could have gotten that day: hope. Seeing her in person, smiling, and obviously living a healthy and vibrant life after GIST, was incredibly inspiring.
She asked me if I was ready to stand up and walk. I said I wasn’t sure. I had doctors’ orders to stand up and walk, but I just hadn’t gotten up the courage. With my Imerman Angel’s help, I not only stood up, but I walked halfway down the hall. It was such a milestone in my recovery, and I don’t believe I could have done it without her.
Since surgery, we are in constant contact. Even if it is just a text message here or there, the reminder that someone else out there survived what I have is a special form of solace. We have plans to celebrate in the future, when I am fully recovered. Every year around April 10 and 11, we share a special anniversary: survival!
Note: Imerman Angels is a global organization with Mentor Angels from all around the world. Only in rare cases are we able to make matches based on city and state.
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