Woman survives rare stomach cancer, crowned Mrs. Texas
Chesney Berzins has many reasons to be thankful.
For one, she is the reigning Mrs. Texas and will head to Las Vegas this August to compete in the Mrs. America pageant. The pageant contestant is also married to the love her life, Phillip - her middle school sweetheart.
The biggest thing she’s thankful for, she said, is having survived cancer.
But none of that would have been possible if Berzins and her family hadn’t discovered they were afflicted with a rare genetic mutation that can cause gastric cancer in 50 percent of those who inherit it.
Berzins and three of her five siblings had a genetic mutation called CDH1.
In late 2015, Berzins’ oncologist told her that she did in fact have the rare hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, which is the third most common cause of cancer deaths globally, according to No Stomach for Cancer. One in 111 men and women will diagnosed in their lifetime.
“By Jan. 14, 2016, I had my stomach removed and I found out later that I had over 11 tumors in my stomach,” she said, recalling the harrowing and life-altering experience. “There was quite a bit of cancer in there.”
After her gastrectomy, Berzins lost more than 50 pounds and said she “was pretty close to death” before her now husband helped her get her life back on track pursuing a healthy lifestyle. Two years later, Berzins was crowned Mrs. Texas.
Now Berzins is using her voice to educate others about the genetic mutation. She’s taking her story with her on the national stage when she competes for the coveted Mrs. America title in August to spread awareness about the rare gastric cancer she and her family survived.
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Her two brothers and sister -John, Paul and Katie - also had their stomachs prophylactically removed and doctors found cancer in each of their stomachs, she said.
“It saved all of our lives, because had we not had our stomachs removed, we all would have had very early deaths,” she said.
“By the time that gastric cancer gets to a certain stage -three or four -there’s only about a four percent survival rate,” she added. “It’s very, very deadly and it’s doesn’t respond to chemo or radiation because of the way it grows. We’re all very fortunate.”
She’s also spreading awareness about her new projects called, ‘We’re All Mammals,’ which s universal acceptance project for the “differently-abled.” She got the idea for the name of project from her nieces, Eve and Felicity.
“In the special needs community, there is such a great stigma that people think that people with special needs or who are differently-abled are less and they’re not,” Berzins said.
One thing she wants everyone to know and understand is that no matter anyone’s disability, “you are never any less.”
“That’s the message that I am desperate to get out to the world, and I’m just really thankful about this, my journey,” she said. “It’s definitely been challenging but it’s also been so rewarding and I’m thankful for it.”