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My name is Karla. I am a five year stomach cancer survivor. When I was diagnosed back in 2010, I came home not knowing how I was going to survive. My stomach was removed and my way of eating totally changed. I went from eating a full plate of food to only a cup every two hours. I learned through trial and error how to eat again, minimize my portions, and what kinds of foods were especially good for me. I began to make different recipes and tried everything, of course eating only in small amounts.  Even if it only satisfied me at that moment, I knew that in two hours I could have some more. I did not have anyone to tell me how to eat or how much I should eat. Everything I saw that was food I wanted to eat. I had to reprogram my brain to understand that I could only hold so much or eat so much, even though I was so hungry and wanted to eat everything in sight. That's how I began to learn how to eat again.

One day, I thought to myself "how many people are out there like me who don't know what to do?"  Now that I had learned to eat and survived, I wanted to help.  So I did.  I became a support volunteer with Cancer Hope Network in 2012 and am enjoying it. Since then I have (or hope that I have) helped people through teaching them how to eat. I have also walked them through the process of the surgery letting them know what they may be facing. Holding their hand through such a difficult time is one of my main concerns. This organization has matched me with people who were lost because their stomach was taken away, but in those cases, I tell them “There is hope. It takes time to recuperate. You need to take baby steps but at the end you will get through this.'

Many of the matches (I like to call them my friends) feel that understanding what they are experiencing after their stomach has been removed is very important, because they can't picture themselves being normal without it. I assure them that it's very hard at the beginning but with a positive attitude and a will to survive they can accomplish anything in life. I have lost many of my friends but, while they were with me, we have shared our accomplishments like being able to eat in small portions and enjoying every minute of it because it meant we were surviving at the same time. We have talked about sometimes forgetting we don't have a stomach but not letting it stop us from enjoying what we can eat and later dealing with the pain in stride.

I would like to let everyone know out there that Cancer Hope Network can help you survive when you are lost. They will find someone who will support you while you are going through chemo, radiation, surgery or just to talk. Cancer Hope Network creates a picture of the world they are about to enter. The “what if's” and fears are minimized because the volunteers are able to answer some or all questions with a sense of reality because we have been there.

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