BERLIN, Conn. (WTNH) — Life for Greta Stifel was going great, until 2015. She knew something wasn’t right with her health. For months she was misdiagnosed with common medical issues.
“All the while it was not that,” said Stifel. “It was the beginning of the storm of cancer of this specific carcinoid cancer of my mid gut.”
Just like that –– cancer. Stifel says things got worse after a tumor was then missed during a colonoscopy.
“The tumor actually grew and blocked and blew up into a big mess of cancer, stage four metastatic everywhere.”
Her world shattered at the age of 57. The official diagnosis – neuroendocrine tumor carcinoid cancer, which is considered rare. Dr. Hari Deshpande works in the department of oncology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He’s not caring for Stifel, but knows about these cancers all too well.
“These are what we call sporatic cancer. They just occur because of some change in the body, but it’s nothing to do with family history or the environment,” Dr. Deshpande explains to News 8.
Over the course of the last four years Stifel’s been in the hospital 27 times. She’s had 8 operations, more than 100 body scans and given nearly 600 viles of blood. The disease causing emotional, physical and financial devastation.
“I want to make sure that nobody ever suffers one-tenth of what I’ve suffered with this chronic, horrible cancer,” said Stifel.
Through all the pain and suffering, Stifel wanted to take action. She tried to champion a bill at the state capitol to bring awareness to rare cancers. It initially failed, but this year she came back with a vengeance.
Moments before the legislative session ended in June, H.B No. 6522 was passed. The bill allows medical professionals to take continuing medical education courses that deal with the screening and diagnosis of certain cancers — especially those that are rare.
Stifel fighting a political battle while also battling her cancer. Stifel says in the end, she created and successfully lobbied for the first-ever advocacy health bill in Connecticut and the United States.
“So it was a bipartisan act of compassion and kindness,” said Stifel. “Knowing this was the right thing to do.”
Dr. Deshpande says these types of continuing medical education courses, which are done yearly, need to be implemented properly in order for them to be useful.
“All of us are inundated with so much information, no matter what field we are in. We need to find a good way, a valuable way of getting those education credits in.”
Stifel hopes to do more locally and nationally. She now wants to embark on a federal campaign to make sure people across the country who are diagnosed with rare cancers don’t suffer a similar fate as her. She’s even rolling out a winter ski and boarding platform to raise awareness and raise funds that are critically needed. All of this, while dealing with hospital admissions and treatments.
When Stifel was diagnosed back in 2015, she was given anywhere from three to five years to live. She’s now going on year four. Her days are a balance of enjoying every moment she has left and making a difference for the people around her. She calls it her journey through “cancer land” and she’s fighting the fight every single day.
“In the end, it will probably win the war over me, but I am victorious over every battle that I fight and I punch through it,” said Stifel.