About Ruth Clark

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Cancer: A Love Story

Samuel Clark and I met at the end of June 2017 via a dating app for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Mutual. A week after we matched we went on our first date. Three weeks later we knew we wanted to be married to each other. We continued dating, keeping our decision semi-quiet. I told my best friends and no one else because I knew everyone would think we were nuts. When the cat was finally out of the bag they did think we were nuts. My mom even told me, “You’re basically telling me you want to marry a stranger from the internet.” (She loves Samuel now and we joke about him being the stranger from the internet). 

In September of 2017 we flew back east so my parents could meet Samuel. We went to dinner with my parents, baby sister, aunt, and step-cousin. Samuel asked my dad for his blessing in the parking lot because I was afraid he wouldn’t get another chance to be alone. That night, Samuel took me to a park near my parent’s house and asked me to marry him. Easiest yes I’ve ever said in my life.

We set a date for December 28, 2017 to be married in the Payson, UT temple with the reception set for the night before, it was around that time that I started feeling not like myself.

I had chronic days where I just didn’t feel great. I was exhausted and nauseated. I had days where I couldn’t keep solid food down. Samuel and I decided to try a vegan diet to see if that helped – it didn’t, but my body felt a little “cleaner”. November and December proved to be challenging as I navigated a newish job, planned a wedding, and attended graduate school working towards my MBA (yeah, I’m crazy). Everyone kept telling me to stop stressing about wedding planning and life and moving. I felt like a broken record telling everyone I wasn’t stressed about marrying Samuel – that was the easiest decision of my life and I felt 1000% sure that I was supposed to marry him and I wanted to marry him. 

The day of our reception came and I had a nail appointment with my mom and sisters and last-minute errands to run with my family. I woke up that morning and dry heaved for a good fifteen minutes then proceed to get ready for the day. Dry heaving had become a part of my daily routine at that point in time. Didn’t matter what I ate, drank, or avoided – I heaved or threw up whatever was in my stomach at the time. By the second time I began dry heaving in the kitchen sink my mom came and rubbed my back and told me to just calm down and assured me that things would get done and there was no reason to stress. I wasn’t worried about things getting done, I was worried about the excruciating pain under my ribcage and in my back and the constant impulse to vomit. 

The following days were a blur aside from the constant pain and throwing up – it was miserable. Although it was not obvious, I was masking incredible pain in all of our wedding photos taken outside the temple. Once off on our mini honeymoon to Las Vegas for the weekend I felt a little relief, however, I was still in a lot of pain. I constantly felt full and had little appetite, I didn’t get to enjoy food much on our honeymoon and by the second day, Samuel threatened to take me to the ER because I was in so much pain. It passed and I got some sleep that evening, but I was concerned to say the least.

When we got home from Vegas, I called the gastric bypass surgeon that repaired my gastro-gastric fistula in 2016. I told the office what was going on and that I’d lost about 30lbs within one months’ time. They scheduled me for a Monday appointment and Dr. Paulk and I met and talked about my symptoms (I’d seen my primary care doctor and we were unable to make progress) and he suspected an ulcer. I went in thinking it would be another fistula. It had to be. The only way we were going to find out what was going on was by sticking a camera down my throat. 

We went the next morning to St. Mark’s Hospital for an endoscope.  The endoscope showed nothing wrong with my gastric pouch so the next step was a CT scan to see if my intestines were kinked or twisted. I went home to recover from the endoscope medication. I woke up from a nap to a new notification in the app “My Chart” saying I had new results. I opened the app and my heart immediately sank. “Multiple lesions in liver, highly suspicious of metastatic disease.” I didn’t know exactly what it all meant, but I knew enough to know it meant possibly the “C” word.

Sure enough, Dr. Paulk called me back to let me know he wanted me to get a liver biopsy ASAP. That Friday I went back to St. Mark’s Hospital to have a biopsy guided with ultrasound. The nurse during setup said, “There’s definitely stuff in there that shouldn’t be.” The biopsy itself went well, but we ended up in the ER at 4am because I was having excruciating pain in my abdomen near the site of the biopsy. A CT scan showed a hematoma, which meant nothing could be done other than take pain meds and let it dissolve on its own. I spent the weekend waiting to hear back from the radiologist with his findings. 

The Tuesday after Martin Luther King day, we got a call. It was from Dr. Paulk. It was cancer. Stage IV. He was telling me things as I desperately tried to write them down. “Neuroendocrine tumors. It’s rare. These produce hormones which is why you’ve been sick. I have to transfer your care to an oncologist. My staff will help get you an appointment.” 

While this phone call took place my husband of two weeks was on his way to meet me and bring me lunch. When he arrived I took him into a conference room and told him what I knew. We cried. Then we called our moms and the siblings one by one. Then we took the rest of the day off work for both of us and disappeared to the aquarium. Somewhere we wanted to be distracted, but could also just talk or not talk.

What followed that day was a constant stream of phone calls to doctors and setting up appointments and being terrified and trying not to be on Google. We were supposed to wait two weeks to see a doctor, but Samuel wouldn’t have any of it and got me in to see someone immediately. I believe it was divine intervention because Dr. Jim Shortridge has been the best third part of our marriage. He understands us as a couple and wants us to succeed and beat this more than anyone.

He put me on four rounds of carboplatin and etopiside which shrank the cancer to no evidence by the end of April. 

Here I was bald, depleted, and determined to have the best “cancer-free” summer ever. We went on a cruise to Mexico, then I went on a girls trip to the other side of Mexico, we went on a week-long trip with Samuel’s family in Yosemite during the wildfires, then a family reunion at a cabin in the mountains. We PLAYED HARD. In addition to all the traveling, we purchased our first home as a newly married couple.

Then in August, that old nauseous feeling returned. Dry heaving now and again. By the end of the month, we had my six month check up we asked for a CT scan. It came back negative for any signs of cancer. However, nine days later the vomiting and pain had gotten so out of control we went to the ER where they did another CT scan and sure enough – the beast was back and threatening my lungs.

Treatment options were slim in the traditional sense and I was told I had about 22 months to live. That’s it. At 35 I was told I had maybe close to two years left on this earth. We furiously looked into other options. One was a clinical trial for Keytruda at the University of Utah. Only problem was they couldn’t get me in to see the doctor soon enough. We ended up calling in a favor and were able to gain priority to meet with Dr. Jonathan Whisenant, he got me on the trial ASAP and submitted forms for genetic testing on my biopsy tissue samples.

A few days later, I was doing Keytruda infusions which made me nauseous and tired. Then I ended up hospitalized because I got to a point where I couldn’t keep fluids down. They did another CT scan and sure enough, there were officially tumors in my lung and larger tumors in my liver. I was off the study and on to chemo back at Utah Cancer Specialists. 

Currently, I get weekly treatments of Gemzar and Abraxane for three weeks with a week off between cycles. This we will do until it stops working. All of this because I was diagnosis was reclassified as Aciner Cell Carcinoma (a rare type of pancreatic cancer). 

Thankfully, we has done the genetic testing and found that I have three mutations, two of which have drugs tailored to combat my particular my type of cancer. 

We know our odds aren’t amazing, but we have as much hope as we can. We plan for the worst daily and pray for the best hourly if not more. 

The biggest thing I’ve learned through all of this is how lucky I am to have a spouse who has been in the fight with me from the first second this all began. He’s my cheerleader and the strong one when I just can’t emotionally fight. He loves and cherishes me. He’s accepted the role of a caretaker with zero complaints. He is at appointments, helps with medications, holds me when I hurt and just cry sometimes. He pushes me to find my inner strength and hold on tightly to knowing whatever we are up against, it’s in God’s hands. God is ultimately the one in control of my situation and He’s blessed us so much already. I can’t even begin to express the humility and gratitude we have already felt. It has been overwhelming at times. We know we are loved and blessed and are so grateful for all that God has blessed us with.

While we can see that the road ahead is paved with hardship, we know we can rely the goodness and generosity of the human spirit to carry us through the tough times. We choose to believe that we can rely on others to see us through the tragic times all of us experience at one time or another.

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