Staying strong: Brenda Lightfoot battling rare appendix cancer with courage, hope

Brenda Lightfoot (center) of Conway, pictured here with her two sons Keagan (left) and Logan, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 appendix cancer. In addition to multiple surgeries she’s already undergone, she’ll soon begin chemotherapy. A benefit pasta dinner is scheduled from 3-7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26, at the Petoskey High School for Lightfoot and her family. A longtime waitress at J.W. Filmore’s in Petoskey, Lightfoot in October had just worked a pair of double shifts and wasn’t feeling well.

“I had pain in my stomach and back after working doubles on Thursday and Friday,” said Lightftoot, a Conway resident. “Saturday I came back (to work) and my back was just killing me. At first I thought it might be a kidney stone.”

With the pain nearly unbearable, Lightfoot went to the emergency room at McLaren Northern Michigan that same Saturday and underwent a CAT scan.

“They ran some tests and then ended up finding a tumor about the size of a football,” Lightfoot said.

“They did markers for cancer as well. It (tumor) was pushing on my bladder. I just kept thinking if my back wasn’t hurting, I probably wouldn’t have gone in.

“I also thought it was just indigestion.”

She returned to work on Monday, but kept her cellphone in her apron awaiting test results. The call finally came, and the news was what she feared.

“My cancer markers were at a 509, and they’re supposed to be between 0-35,” Lightfoot said. “At that point they thought is was ovarian.”

She then went to see Dr. David Michelin, a gynecologic oncologist and ovarian cancer surgeon at the Cowell Cancer Center at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, who performed a full hysterectomy operation shortly following her initial visit.

“He was pretty sure he could get the cancer and put in a chemotherapy port if needed,” Lightfoot said. “What he found out is it was appendix cancer.”

Lightfoot’s appendix cancer was already in Stage 4 and it had metastasized (spread) to her uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

Her form of appendix cancer, mucinous cystadenocarcinoma, is quite rare in the United States. It’s estimated just 1,000 cases are diagnosed in the country each year.

“I did my research and found Dr. (Richard) Berri was one of the best in the country, and he started doing HIPEC (hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy) to remove the jellylike substance that cannot be removed with a scalpel,” Lightfoot said.

Biopsies performed at St. John’s Providence Hospital in Grosse Pointe showed Lightfoot’s cancer had metastasized even further, and Dr. Berri had to perform a near 15-hour operation to remove cancerous tumors and began administering a heated, sterilized chemotherapy solution.

“He had to remove part of my colon and had to get to my lymph nodes,” Lightfoot said. “I also had six inches of my small intestine removed and the wall of my abdomen.”

The HIPEC procedure was delivered to Lightfoot’s abdomen to penetrate and destroy remaining cancer cells. Solution the temperature of a warm bath was circulated throughout her abdomen for about 1 1/2 hours, then drained.

The procedure, which was performed on Dec. 12, went well for Lightfoot at first and she was up and walking the next two days. That Friday, however, she took a turn for the worse.

“I woke up three days later and asked the day and realized I had been out for three days. All I could think of was my kids had no idea what was going on with me and how worried they must be.”

Nearly a month later and now awaiting a new round of chemotherapy because of a lymph node biopsy which came back positive, Lightfoot remains on oxygen and is unable to work.

That, however, hasn’t affected her positive attitude she’s mustered through her entire journey.

For more information regarding the pasta dinner and silent auction or to make a donation, contact either Emily Stuchell, (231) 330-4936, or Ronda Green, (231) 330-6659.

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