SAN FRANCISCO (KRON) — Running, biking and swimming — Steve Dang did it all as a longtime triathlete.
But that nearly all came to an end just a year and a half ago due to a bizarre and deadly family medical history. We present to you the brave tale of a man without a stomach.
In Dang’s world, there is no such a thing as a free ride, especially since he has paid his dues several times over.
He lost his father, sister, grandmother and aunt, all before his 30th birthday, and all to the same mysterious affliction.
“I kind of lived not knowing what was going on, and why my family was dying so young,” Dang said.
“When we first met in high school, he used to talk about how he was going to die young,” his wife Kate said. “That’s not something, like it’s a bizarre thing for people to talk about in high school, but he was totally adamant about that. I would always get mad at him like, ‘Stop that’s so weird, don’t say that.’ I don’t want you to die young. But because of what he has seen his family go through, he just felt there was no way of stopping this. Like this was going to happen to me too.”
The silent menace haunting his family turned out to be a rare disorder known as Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer. It is estimated 1 in 500,000 people globally are diagnosed.
Dang was just the 350th-confirmed case. Unlike other cancers, HDGC is undetectable, no blood markers or tumors.
The only way of knowing you have it is to remove the stomach.
“One of the things that the doctor was saying as we we’re going through this was, ‘Hey you can wait until you have symptoms?’ But out of the last five patients that waited to have symptoms, three of them were dead within the year and the last two died within three,” Dang said. “So at that point, me and my wife looked at each other and said, ‘OK, we’re going to have to go through this surgery.'”
So, on March 6, 2014, Steve took a leap of faith. When the biopsy came back six days later, his risk had paid off.
“They told us, ‘you had cancer everywhere. You had Stage 1 cancer everywhere, but it didn’t go past your stomach,'” Dang said. “It was fully contained….”
“It kind of felt like Christmas morning to us when we got that news because we felt that if we hadn’t done this, then we’d be most likely planning his funeral in a year or two,” Kate said.
While Steve’s spirit was ready to start the recovery process, his body had a tougher time getting used to life without a vital organ. Ensuing complications forced another round of surgery.
After several weeks in and out of the hospital, he could finally return to his life as a triathlete.
“As i started getting better, I wanted to go back training for triathlons again as much as I can,” Dang said. “My doctors were like, ‘Hey you probably aren’t going to be able to do this again,’ but for me, it was really important because if my daughters have it, then I want them to be able to look and be like, ‘your dad went through this too and it’s going to be okay.'”
The Dangs have two daughters–a newborn and a 3-year-old–both have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the disorder.
But instead of worrying–Steve and Kate trust in their faith to work it out. After all, their unyielding belief has carried them this far.
“We don’t have a ton of control over everything that happens, but really it’s how we understand it. It’s how we interpret it. And for us, it’s our faith that gets re-purposed and helps us to tell a greater story. And for my daughters, personally, to tell a very different story to them too,” Dang said.