Liz Montgomery with a canine companion
Photos courtesy of Liz's GoFundMe page
Liz in good spirits in the hospital
By Laurie Gordon
SPARTA — Against the greatest of odds, Liz Montgomery beat cancer and has shown an uncanny inner strength to battle through the ongoing struggle that has come after it.
“This girl is a feisty, lovable, ball of energy, who has always held a little more spark and promise than your average girl,” her friends Pam, Jill and John say on the GoFundMe page they created, “Not because of what she has been given, but because of what she gives to others. She is a spitfire with a heart of gold.”
Montgomery was born in Newton and grew up in the Lake Mohawk section of Sparta. Following college, she moved to New York City and worked in the music business, but after 911, she decided she wanted to help people and went back to school to become a nurse. She didn't just take any nursing job, she worked on the inpatient psych unit and had done so until January 6 of this year when she had to take a leave of absence due to her health.
“Her dream was to make a fundamental difference in the lives of misunderstood people struggling with psychiatric pathology. Her daily purpose was to find hope for the person who had lost all hope, in a world that made no sense to them,” her friends said. “She didn’t work a cozy job in a fancy hospital. She worked in a harrowing, stress filled psyche ward in New York City, and did it, gracefully.”
Montgomery had gotten married in December of 2008 to a doctor she'd met through work. She had started having symptoms about a few months before the wedding.
“Right after our wedding, that January 2009 is when the torment of multiple ER visits and hospitalizations with no answers really kicked in,” she said.
Instead of enjoying life as a newlywed, Montgomery ensued two long years of unexplained stomach pain and repeated misdiagnoses. She finally learned that she had appendix cancer. An abdominal cat scan was performed three months after her appendix was removed, and the radiologist read her scan as negative for cancer. But Montgomery knew something wasn't right. The doctor assured Montgomery that she was fine since he had taken out her appendix.
“He told me we would get a scan in six months,” she said, “But I demanded it be earlier and we agreed on three months, even though I wanted it right away. Within three months I was huge, I felt crazy, everyone thought I was a hypochondriac. I got the scan and was told by the surgeon 'congratulations you are cancer free.'”
Montgomery didn't buy it. “I told him there was no way I was cancer free. He then told me to see a psychiatrist. I got my own scans and literally stayed up for about 48 hours solid over one weekend and taught myself how to read CT scans. I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew my scans weren’t normal. I then did a simple google search 'what happens after appendix cancer' and the results came up “Pseudomyxoma Peritonei or PMP”.
She was right. She consulted with a new physician who read her studies which showed numerous metastatic lesions. She was subsequently diagnosed with PMP and was given six to 12 months to live. Montgomery's only option would be to travel to Baltimore to undergo an 11 hour cytoreductive surgery with heated intraperitoneal chemotherapy. The surgery she subsequently had (now six years ago), in the medical world, is termed “MOAS”. This acronym stands for Mother Of All Surgeries. Plainly speaking, this meant losing multiple organs, plus her chance to have children and lead a normal life thereafter.
“The year and a half after that was sheer torment,” Montgomery said. “I was on a feeding tube for eight months. I literally sat or lay down when I could just as if I was in a coma, I was on morphine, fentanyl and methadone to help with the pain. I was gutted like a fish. After two years I started to feel a bit better.”
As if it weren't enough, during this time, Montgomery's father had been diagnosed with a stage 3 stomach cancer literally the same month she was diagnosed.
“I stayed with my mom to recover,” she said, “My husband was unable to care for me due to his medical residency demands. It felt like I lived in a nursing home and my poor mom took the brunt of all of it. She is 78 years old now.”
In May 2012, Montgomery decided she would try and go back to work on the inpatient psych unit.
“I missed having a purpose and I missed the patients and co-workers,” she said. “I went back to work on a per-deim status (meaning as I could and as needed). My first day back to work I came home and literally in less then 30 seconds my husband told me he wasn’t attracted to me any longer and some other embarrassing statements and then walked out the door and never came back leaving me with thre cats and a puppy. Yet, again my mom came to the rescue. She stayed with me on and off for a couple weeks. And of course my friends were there for me.”
“My mom does everything for me, and I know, I am sure it is difficult to see your only daughter dying or slipping away before her own eyes,” Montgomery said. “She is here with me now since I’m again on medical leave and on TPN (tube feedings) as I am unable to truly eat or drink enough to sustain any type of functionality. I’m hoping that changes. I am able to eat at times, but then the pain can be unbearable. You will almost always find me at home with a heating pad on. But my mom, she is the one. She is everything to me.”
For Montgomery, her future is up in the air. She's not sure she'll ever be able to return to work. “Most of what is 'killing' me is the scar tissue (adhesion related disorder). I have multiple bowel obstructions, kidney infections, all of my remaining organs are attached to each other. They call it a frozen abdomen. I had an attempted nephrectomy and my doctor told me he couldn’t even visualize my kidney due to so much scar tissue. So I will continue to need the every three month ureteral stent exchanges as the dead kidney is still in there, but it still needs draining from the pus, infection and God knows whatever else is in there. My plan was to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. I started to go back to school online fall 2016, I took one class and got an “A”. But it was all too much for me, working, school, walking my dog. When you don’t eat or drink like a 'normal' person every day things take so so much out of you.
“I awoke on January 6th of this year vomiting bile and that was my last day of work. I’ve already had 3 ER visits and two hospitalizations in 2017. I’m growing tired of it, but I can’t imagine not continuing on with my life. In my dreams I would like to have a little house on or near the lake to be near my family and friends, and go back to school to be a psych NP. But that’s never going to happen at this point. For the first time in my life I am unsure of the future, of even the next few months, and it’s scary sometimes.“
In addition to her family, Montgomery has faith. “Faith is the only way. If you don’t have faith in yourself, I can assure you no one else will either. Don’t get me wrong I have some very dark days, but I don’t stay there. I will cry and sometimes give myself a time limit. You have to move on to something else. Force yourself. My friends from Sparta, are not “like” family they are family. I know that I have always said that. All the places I’ve been around the world when I worked in the music industry (before my nursing life), colleges, different jobs nothing compares to Sparta friends.”
It was these friends who started the GoFundME page.
Though there has been darkness, Montgomery remains as positive as she can. “The biggest advice I can give is that you know your body better than anyone. If you deep down believe there is something wrong with you, if you are not at your baseline, then seek help. If one or two doctors tell you are fine, even if the scans come back read as 'normal' as mine were misread. Then find another hospital, another doctor. Stick up for yourself and what you feel.”
“Liz has been so strong and working tirelessly as a nurse,” said her mother, Theresa Montgomery. “Now she has become ill due to the aftermath of the cancer and all it's treatment and is unable to work. Her medical bills are insurmountable and she is in desperate need of the help of the town she loves so much.”
Montgomery weights just 90 pounds. She's 5'7”. Her hospital stats through this ordeal read: 51 hospital visits in 2010, 28 in 2011, 12 in 2012, 33 in 2013, 37 in 2014, 28 in 2015, 21 in 2016, and three in 2017 with two diagnostic studies coming up. She's still refused to ask for help, so that's when her friends stepped in.
The GoFundMe page for Montgomery is to help her during this very difficult time when she cannot work which has no known finish line. The page concludes: “Please join Team Liz. We ask for prayers and financial contributions of any amount. Your donations will go towards getting Liz out of insurmountable debt and get her on her feet again, so that she may get the medical care she desperately needs to live. Traveling for medically required follow-up visits is costly and imperative. Surviving has become a full-time job, and her post operative care is not only mandatory, but expensive. Thank you for any support you can give and please share this link with any friends or family you think would like to help Liz out. With Love and Gratitude, Team Liz, Pam, Jill and John.”
The page can be found at: <URL destination="http://www.gofundme.com/teamlizsupport ">www.gofundme.com/teamlizsupport
</URL>Photos are of Liz Montgomery and are courtesy of the GoFundMe page