David H.

Esophageal Cancer - Stage III


One of the biggest benefits to treating at CTCA was that everything was in one place. I didn’t have to drive, sit in traffic or get lost trying to get to all my appointments. I didn’t have to coordinate medical records between doctors because all the members of my care team were in constant contact with one another.

I grew up in a faith-based home, as my father was a preacher. I was born in Michigan and moved around a bit. Then, around age 20, I moved to Texas to be with my parents. I went to college in Dallas, and after graduating, I moved to Tyler, Texas, where I still live today. I worked as a credit manager for an electrical supply company for 30 years.

I have been married for over 25 years to my wonderful wife, Wanda, who I met through a mutual friend who recognized our mutual love of sports. I have three sons and three stepsons, who are all grown.

In July 2013, I started having some strange symptoms. Food was backing up while I was eating, and I had trouble swallowing. I went in for an endoscope, and the doctor told me I had stage III esophageal cancer. I was shocked. The doctor recommended surgery as the first course of action. I had heard from others that esophageal surgery was difficult, and I told my wife I wanted a second opinion.

Not waiting around

My wife sprang into action. Her sister had passed away from ovarian cancer a few years earlier, and she had done research during her cancer journey. Wanda was also familiar with the process of cancer treatment, so she had some relevant background knowledge. She started looking for other options for me. Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) rose to the top.

After Wanda’s suggestion, I went on the computer to research CTCA®. I eventually picked up the phone and called. I was immediately connected to a knowledgeable and helpful representative. I provided all my information, and the CTCA team took it from there, getting insurance approval, collecting my medical records and scheduling my appointments. Within a week, I was at the CTCA hospital in Tulsa.

We drove the 300 miles there with eager anticipation and nervousness. But once I walked through the doors, I was overwhelmed with peace and felt comfort, warmth and hope.

Meeting with my care team helped resolve whatever remaining fears I had. I completed tests and scans, and my team educated me about my cancer, presented treatment options and allowed me to ask lots of questions. Then we formulated a treatment plan that was personalized to me. My team knew it was important for me to maintain my quality of life while fighting this cancer.

I completed 28 rounds of radiation therapy and received chemotherapy. We stayed at the guest quarters onsite at the CTCA hospital. One of the biggest benefits to treating at CTCA was that everything was in one place. I didn’t have to drive, sit in traffic or get lost trying to get to all my appointments. I didn’t have to coordinate medical records between doctors because all the members of my care team were in constant contact with one another.

The Cancer Fighters® team keeps us busy with activities while we are there and connected when we are away. I often did karaoke on Tuesday nights because I love singing. They schedule trips, crafts and get-togethers at the hospital. The Cancer Fighter volunteers and employees at the hospital were helpful, kind and encouraging, providing support when I needed it. They have so much energy and positivity. I feel that no one wants to be sick, but if you are going to be sick, it’s so much better at CTCA.

After my radiation therapy and chemotherapy treatments ended in September 2013, I went back a month later to complete photodynamic therapy, which uses photosensitizing agents along with light to kill cancer cells. Since that last treatment, I’ve only gone back for regular scans and tests.

Unexpected news

I had retired from my long-term career and was taking life one day at a time. I was better for a while, then I had a recurrence in February 2015. I was having trouble swallowing again. I had a hard time speaking, and I couldn’t sing. I saw a local ENT, and a biopsy confirmed it was cancer again.

I treated locally. This time I needed a feeding tube, and I lost a lot of weight. I underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy again. I completed treatment in July 2015, and my feeding tube was eventually removed. I had regular screening appointments, but things were beginning to feel normal again.

In September 2015, wife and I went to Hawaii and celebrated me putting my cancer journey behind me. We were traveling more, and I even I started a part-time job delivering for a pharmacy. 

I was seeing a chiropractor because I was having some pain in my side that seemed to radiate down my right leg. The chiropractor performed some adjustments, and sometimes they helped, but that didn’t last. Finally, I went in for some testing in April 2018, and scans showed abnormalities in my lungs. The doctors originally thought it was lung cancer.

I decided I needed answers, and I called CTCA. I completed an array of tests and scans that eventually showed it was not lung cancer but malignant psoas syndrome (MPS), a rare and unique cancer-associated syndrome involving the psoas major muscle. It was a relief to be diagnosed accurately. However, the disease is not curable.

The good news is that although my disease is very rare, CTCA doctors researched possible answers. I had 15 radiation treatments, and I did four rounds of chemotherapy. I stayed at CTCA for about a month in May 2018. I was glad to be back, and I was again so appreciative that everything was under one roof. I stayed at the hospital most of the time and focused on finishing my treatments.

This time, my side effects were tough. I had to deal with neuropathy in my feet, and I lost my hair. I worked with supportive care services to help me. The mass in my pelvis was shrinking, and the doctors were pleased.

Then I did advanced genomic testing, which revealed mutations that tested positive for a trial medicine, an immunotherapy drug that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for breast and ovarian cancer. Taking the medication is fairly simple: The pills are mailed to my house. I take four pills every day—two in the morning, and two in the evening. I’ve been taking it since September 2018, and it has kept my MPS under control.

Making progress

I go back to CTCA every four weeks and get scans every 12 weeks. As long as my disease keeps responding to the medicine, I’ll keep taking it. In August 2019, I went back to work part-time driving for the pharmacy. I was bored sitting at home. My wife and I work together, delivering IVs from one pharmacy to another. It’s great extra money, and it keeps me busy.

I am so thankful for my supportive friends and family who have been with me on this cancer journey. My hair is growing back, and my feet aren’t as numb. Wanda and I are starting to travel again. I try to see my children and grandchildren as often as possible, as well as my mother, who is 91.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to tell my story and do my part to educate both cancer patients and doctors about the possibilities of living a full life after an advanced cancer diagnosis. I hope to help others by sharing my story of hope and healing. Never give up!

Coming to terms with having cancer is difficult. I believe each day is a blessing. I am thankful for what I have accomplished in my life, but I still have more I want to do. Although I can’t control the progress of my cancer, I can control how I choose to live my life.


July 2013