Stepping on legos. Dirty diapers. Temper tantrums. Functioning on little sleep. These are all things that a mom with a toddler and an infant should be worrying about. But for Gloria Northrup, an unexpected colon cancer diagnosis turned her world upside down as she found herself in the fight of her life at the young age of 35.
Originally from Manipur, India, Gloria moved to the United States for college. After graduating, she found a job working for a non-profit in Colorado Springs where she met her husband Matthew. They have two rambunctious boys who love legos, trucks and superheroes.
As a new mom raising two little boys, Gloria was used to feeling a little off at times-limited sleep takes a toll on a body. However, when she started having some abdominal pain that she had never experienced before, Gloria felt something was not right.
“I went to a local ER where I got an X-ray and was prescribed laxatives for ‘constipation’,” she says. “I couldn’t believe that what I was experiencing was constipation but I went home and just hoped I would feel better.”
Gloria did not get better. Two weeks went by and her pain continued to get worse.
“I remember the day my life changed so clearly,” she explains. “It was September 15, 2015. My pain was so bad that I called my husband at work and told him to come home. My sister came to watch the boys so my husband could drive me to another ER.”
A CT scan at the ER scan revealed masses in her colon, liver and left lung. Gloria was immediately rushed to a hospital in the metro area.
“After my diagnosis I thought about dying a lot,” she says. “I wondered who would take care of my boys and watch them grow. I wondered how my husband would cope being a single parent. I wondered if I wanted to be buried or cremated. I wondered who would put my clothes away. I had very little hope of making it through the next months.”
Gloria started her treatment right away-surgery and five months of chemotherapy. Although there were a number of un-pleasantries during that time, the ostomy bag that she had to use took a huge mental toll.
“I did not think the ostomy bag would affect me as much as it did,” she explains. “It was so surreal to me and I had a lot of questions about it. I finally decided to join the support group Colontown and it helped me feel that I wasn’t so alone. I was able to connect with younger patients that understood the challenge of having cancer and still having to raise little ones. It was life changing for more reasons than one.”
Not only did Gloria find the support she needed during her sessions at Colontown but she also became familiar with the University of Colorado Cancer Center.
“I had heard so many people talking about the care they received there so I searched on the CU Cancer Center website and found Dr. Lieu,” she explains. “I was so impressed with all of his accomplishments that I made an appointment with him in the beginning on 2016.”
After meeting with Chris Lieu, MD, director of the CU Cancer Center colorectal medical oncology program, Gloria decided to continue her treatment with him. On March 24, 2016, she had a reversal surgery. She was then put on Xeloda, a drug that is commonly used during colon cancer treatment and slows the growth of cancer cells around the body. In July 2016 she did two weeks of radiation on her liver.
“Gloria has come a long way from where she started,” says Lieu. “Currently she still has tumors, but they are totally stable. We will continue to treat with maintenance chemo.”
In addition to ongoing treatment, Gloria has found that complimentary medicine has been very helpful.
“I do acupuncture and message therapy at the Integrative Medicine Center to help with neuropathy,” she says. “I also try to be mindful of what I eat and stay physically active. I make it a point to walk for about an hour every evening.”
Despite a grim prognosis in the beginning, the future looks bright for Gloria.
“I feel so hopeful now,” she says. “I can now dream about and plan for the future. My older son starts kindergarten this fall and I am celebrating my ten year anniversary with my husband this summer. These are things that I was never sure I would be able to see.”