Family Tries Radical Approach to Cancer Prevention

Eleven members of a single family decided to have their stomachs removed to avoid a rare hereditary form of cancer. They are now living without the vital organ. Diane Sindt was among those who elected to have her stomach removed. She tells Madeleine Brand about the decision.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

But first, Golda Bradfield died of stomach cancer in 1960. She didn't know it but she passed on a flawed gene that causes the disease to seven of her children. Six of them died. And most of Golda's grandchildren also inherited the gene, but they did something to change their destiny. They had their stomach's removed. Eleven of them had the operation. Diane Sindt is one of them. She runs a real estate firm in Roseville, California, and she joins us from her office. Hi, Diane.

Ms. DIANE SINDT (Grandchild of Golda Bradfield): Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, you have said that this was an easy decision for you to make. Why is that?

Ms. SINDT: It was an easy decision because so many of my relatives had died of the stomach cancer. And so we knew that when we ended up with this mutant gene, that if we didn't have our stomach removed our destiny was to die. So between having the stomach removed, or die of cancer, it was a pretty easy decision.

BRAND: Easy choice. Because you have a 70 percent chance of you have the gene of getting the disease.

Ms. SINDT: Right.

BRAND: Well, did it also help that many of your family members also had the gene, and also decided to take their stomachs out as well?

Ms. SINDT: That did help. Two of them had had them removed and had called us to let us know about the gene. And we visited with them, and we saw that they were doing okay.

BRAND: How did you and your cousins figure out that you actually had this gene?

Ms. SINDT: My cousin David died of the stomach cancer, and a couple of weeks before he died, they had sent his blood sample up to British Columbia Cancer Agency, to Dr. David Hensman(ph) and to Dr. Lynch at Creighton University. And they had worked on the gene, and discovered that we had the mutant CDH1 cancer gene.

Ms. SINDT: And so from that they were able to test the rest of our DNA to see whether we had the gene or not.

BRAND: And you discovered that you had the mutant gene?

Ms. SINDT: Correct. Discovered that we had it.

BRAND: And when did you have the surgery?

Ms. SINDT: Had the surgery, beginning of December in 2004.

BRAND: And how has life been in the last year and a half?

Ms. SINDT: It's been different. It's a new normal. I have to eat a lot more often. Smaller meals. My two sisters and I can split a meal and that works out great. You have to chew your food a lot more. It's - I would say that energy-wise I'm probably 95 percent back to normal.

BRAND: Well, you know, most people would think that a stomach is essential. But you can live just fine without it. How do you - can you eat anything?

Ms. SINDT: Some days I can get anything, and some days I can't. I have to stay away from a lot of sugar. A lot of the fat doesn't work good in the system. You have to eat a lot of protein, because our body doesn't absorb as much as what it used to. And so if you eat salad, something that fills you up, then you don't get the protein and the nutrients that you need.

BRAND: And so it works by the food going straight to the intestine?

Ms. SINDT: It goes straight to the intestine. They'd connected the intestines to the esophagus.

BRAND: Are there any health side effects from not having a stomach?

Ms. SINDT: They don't have a whole bunch of studies on this yet. And so we're not sure what the side effects are at this point and time. We get tested quite a bit to make sure that our iron is okay.

BRAND: And I guess you've lost a lot of weight.

Ms. SINDT: Yes. Quite a bit, I've lost about 36 pounds.

BRAND: Do you have children?

Ms. SINDT: I do, I have two boys.

BRAND: And are you afraid that you have passed on the mutant gene to them?

Ms. SINDT: Actually, when I was in the hospital getting my stomach removed, they had their DNA tested. And they both came back negative.

BRAND: Oh, well that's a relief.

Ms. SINDT: That is a relief. It's very unusual because every family has at least one that's turned out positive.

BRAND: So you have maybe nieces or nephews who have the gene?

Ms. SINDT: Yes, I do.

BRAND: And are they going to undergo the surgery?

Ms. SINDT: Yes, they will undergo the surgery. My aunt died at 25. So you know, I have people that have died anywhere from 25 to in their 60s.

BRAND: You found out after your operation that indeed your stomach had cancerous cells in it. Was that a relief in a way to see that you, you know, actually did avoid contracting this disease?

Ms. SINDT: It was a huge relief. It's like a - I always look at it as like a second birthday. You know, I have my normal birthday, and then the day that I had the surgery, that was my second birthday.

BRAND: Well, Diane Sindt, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Ms. SINDT: You're welcome.

BRAND: Diane Sindt is one of eleven cousins who are living without a stomach. They had their stomachs removed prophylactically to avoid stomach cancer.

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