Growing up, they watched helplessly as a rare hereditary stomach cancer killed their grandmother and some of their parents, aunts and uncles. Determined to get the better of the cancer, they turned to genetic testing. Upon learning they had inherited their grandmother Golda Bradfield’s flawed gene, they had two options.
They could play the odds and hope they did not develop cancer, with a 70% chance they would, or have their stomachs removed.
The latter would mean a challenging life of eating very little very often.
All the cousins chose the life-changing operation. Doctors say they are the largest family to have preventive surgery to protect themselves from hereditary stomach cancer.
“We’re not only surviving, we’re thriving,” said Mr Slabaugh 16 months after his operation at Stanford University Medical Centre in Palo Alto.
Mr Slabaugh, who lives in Dallas, reunited with his many scattered cousins recently in Las Vegas just two months after the last in the group — Bill Bradfield of Farmington, New Mexico — had his operation.
Without a stomach, patients typically lose significant weight and must eat smaller meals more often. They can still digest food through the small intestine.
Before Diane Sindt and her two older sisters had their stomachs taken out, they ate their “last supper” during Thanksgiving.
Ms Sindt dropped from a size 14 to a size 4 since the surgery, but she has trouble keeping down certain foods, like ice cream and tends to shed weight easily if she over-exercises.
To overcome it, Ms Sindt sticks with meat and has replaced running with “power walking.”
“It’s definitely a new normal for us,” said the 51-year-old estate agent from the Sacramento area.
After watching his other cousins slowly regain parts of their former lives, New Mexico-based Bill Bradfield went ahead with the operation in March, becoming the last in the family to give up his stomach.
“We’re all going to die of something,” he said, “but I know I won’t die of stomach cancer.”