Esophageal cancer - Stage III
This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.
View CTCA treatment results for esophageal cancer
The problem began in a subtle way. For about a year and a half, I’d been having trouble swallowing on and off. Sometimes everything was fine, but other times, swallowing food felt like trying to cram a bowling ball through a straw. One day, I mentioned the problem to a coworker, who said he had experienced the same problem. He said the doctor had prescribed medication. He now takes one pill a day, and everything is fine.
In the fall of 2011, I tried a prescription reflux medication, but in mid-November, at my doctor’s urging, I ended up having an endoscopy. After I came to from the anesthesia, my wife, Sarah, and our 4-month-old daughter were there. My doctor told us that she was 99 percent sure I had cancer. I was 33 years old at the time. Sarah was hit hard by the news. I was still groggy, so I didn’t feel the impact. Sarah told me later that my first question was whether I would lose my hair, which was a little funny because I am bald. My doctor did a biopsy so the tissue could be analyzed directly for cancer. She said she would have the results for us on Monday. Later, as I regained my alertness, I really didn’t believe the diagnosis—until we received the call on Monday telling us that the biopsy confirmed it.
That was a hard moment of facing reality. I live a very healthy lifestyle. Yes, I have fast food once in a while, and I battle an on-and-off addiction with sugary soft drinks. But I don’t smoke. I don’t chew tobacco. We cook healthy meals at home. I exercise at the gym five or six days a week, and I am in good shape. I really thought our doctor would call on Monday to tell us she’d made a mistake.
There was no reason to delay treatment. I met with an oncologist near our home in Omaha, Nebraska, and had six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation followed by an esophagectomy in March 2012. After the surgery, I had quarterly check-ups. In December 2013, the doctor called to tell me that although the areas where the surgery and radiation were directed looked fine, there were some worrisome spots. One of these was right outside my lung, accessible for biopsy. The results confirmed the spot was cancerous.
A new approach
Two days before Christmas in 2013, my wife called Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA). She spoke with someone for a while, then called me to say that I would be receiving a call from Illinois and I had to answer it. I spoke with an Oncology Information Specialist, and in a matter of hours I was approved for treatment at CTCA®. They were ready for my arrival on Christmas Eve, but I needed a few more days. We arrived on December 29, and I met with an oncologist the next day. I also met with an oncology nurse, my care manager, the travel coordinator, the finances administrator and many other members of my Care Team. I had a PET scan, a CT scan and other diagnostic tests.
On New Year’s Eve, Dr. Pollock told me I had three options. We could do nothing and just wait to see how things progress—we all agreed this was not the approach we wanted to take. Another option was robotic radiosurgery on three spots. The third option was chemotherapy. He explained that because radiation could miss small areas, his recommendation was chemotherapy. I agreed, and we started treatment.
For the next nine months, I was at CTCA every three to four weeks for chemotherapy, receiving a total of 10 to 15 rounds in all with capecitabine and oxaliplatin. The side effects were fairly minimal. I had some neuropathy for about a week after each oxaliplatin treatment, and I had to be careful with cold temperatures. The nurses warned me about how to handle this issue, counseling me to make sure I was properly dressed for winter weather, since I would be extremely sensitive to the cold and would feel a tingling sensation to any exposed skin. Any other issues that came up I was able to manage on my own. I continued working full time and going to the gym.
By March 2014, two of the spots that had shown up in the imaging scan were gone. By August, an imaging scan showed no visible signs of cancer. In September, a battery of tests all confirmed that the cancer was in remission.
A growing family
As I healed from cancer, my family grew. When my wife and I first arrived at CTCA, we didn’t know she was pregnant. We had resigned ourselves to being a family of three because we thought my cancer and treatment would make a second child impossible. A couple of days later, my wife told me she was pregnant. My oldest daughter, who was 4 months old when I was diagnosed, is four years old now.
During this time, my Care Team at CTCA became part of our extended family, and they remain that way today. We interact on social media. They ask about my daughters. I get text messages asking how I’m doing.
Dr. Pollock was all I could ask for in a doctor. He never sugar-coated anything; he was always straightforward with me. Jessica Smith, my dietitian, was always just a phone call away. My naturopathic medicine providers, Samantha Hoang and Jessica Moore, were very attentive, keeping track of whatever supplements I was taking and making changes as needed.
Being away from my family was hard. My wife traveled with me to Oklahoma at first, but as her pregnancy progressed, my father took her place. I put in long hours with my job at a communications company, so being away at the CTCA hospital in Tulsa was difficult. But I know that was a small price to pay.
I was also comforted by how everyone at CTCA treated my caregivers, both my wife and my father. Every time my father goes with me, he is amazed at the care and warmth. He sees how many people there know me by name. Dr. Pollock always included them in our appointments so that it wasn’t only me receiving the information and updates. He also wanted my family’s perspective on how things were going for me at home between treatments.
Resist the statistics
When I speak with other people facing a cancer diagnosis, I tell them you don’t have to listen to the statistics. If someone gives you a grim outlook, that doesn’t mean they’re right. I also always recommend calling CTCA because I know the kind of care I received there. Keep a fighting mentality, ready to move forward with hope.
My wife and two little girls kept me motivated. That was a much better source from which to draw strength than the statistics, and I am thankful for every day we have together.