"I know it's cancer, but I don't want to hear it's cancer until I get back from vacation."
Robin Forcier remembers exactly what she told her doctor when he was about to tell her she had cancer of the esophagus. For more than two years, she'd watched her dad go through tough rounds of chemo and radiation for the very same cancer and the South Jersey teacher, 39 at the time, desperately needed a week in Ocean City she'd planned with her kids last spring.
The Monday after vacation, she picked up the phone, faced her diagnosis and before the summer was over, Robin's esophagus had been removed and rebuilt with muscles from her stomach. Two months later, her dad died.
"My blessing was, he was the reason I went to get the test done and he lived long enough to know I was okay," she says. Otherwise, she might have taken something over the counter instead of going straight to a gastroenterologist after having a "little" discomfort for two days.
Traumatic events sometimes provoke people to think about how they want to live the rest of their lives. For Robin, it was a call to action.
"We've got to put an end to cancer and at some point, we have to stand up and ask, as individuals, 'What can we do?'"
What she did was get involved with a group that's launching the first Relay for Life in Marlton, New Jersey. And yes, it would be great if you could make it out there this Saturday (especially since there's enough fun stuff going on to keep the whole family entertained).
"In some small way, everyone is somehow connected to cancer, whether you've had it or loved someone who had it," she says. And "It's a community fight. Researchers can't do it alone and people who can't afford treatments really need our help," Robin says.
Statistically, Robin didn't fit the profile for people with esophageal cancer. Most get diagnosed in their 60's or 70's. She was only 39 and had never had any acid reflux problems or other signs. Her dad was diagnosed after "reccurring hiccups that wouldn't go away."
Eventually, Robin learned she had Barrett's Espophagus, which had gone undiagnosed for years. That's a condition that increases your risk. "That's why they call it a silent killer. Most people don't know they have it [esophageal cancer] until Stage 3 or 4." Robin's cancer was barely Stage 1 and her prognosis is great. "Doctors say I'm sort of an enigma." And in this context, that turned out to be a good thing.