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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Another milestone -- 15,017

Not long ago, just a few hours actually, my two blogs, CancerVivor.blogspot.com and kohnzone.blogspot.com, went past 15,000 page views.

In the scheme of things, that's not a very vast amount of traffic. But for me, it's ginormous. That's because it means my messages of health (cancer blog) and of a reunited family (kohnzone) are getting out to at least a handful of avid readers who keep clicking here, and, maybe, to more than that on a less-frequent basis.

My key goal is to get as many people I can to understand how I acquired cancer of the esophagus so that maybe, just maybe, they will not.

(Advertising interlude here: Please remember to click on the ads on this blog, as any money raised -- so far just $31.13 -- will go as a donation to Florida Hospital Cancer Institute. But Google won't cut a check until there's more than $100 in ad revenue, so get to work!)

So I'll recap. Yes, you can get cancer from heartburn. Heartburn causes acid reflux, which splashes stomach fluids onto or into the esophagus. When it happens too often, the esophagus gets defensive. It changes and takes on some characteristics of the stomach. This change, Barrett's Esophagus, is a pre-cancerous state. It opens the esophagus and other parts of the body to developing cancer. That is what happened to me.

So, almost exactly a year ago, I was diagnosed with cancer thanks to the expert endoscopy of Dr. Philip Styne. Hurriedly, he sent me to my wonderful oncologist, Dr. Lee Zehngebot -- Dr. Z for short -- who explained a lot and hooked me up with Dr. David Diamond, my fantastic radio-oncologist, who started my radiation program like it a matter of life or death -- which, after all, it was.

First, both docs had me go into Winter Park Hospital to be outfitted with my high-tech bodily accessories -- a medical port so Dr. Z could infuse my body with wonderful chemical cocktails and a feeding tube so Dr. Diamond could be sure that if I couldn't swallow food the old-fashioned way I could drink it without it ever passing through my lips.

Then I was tattooed and set up on a radiation program, which began a day or so later. A few days after that I had my first dose of chemo, a several-hour procedure where I was doped up pretty good at first and then -- bang! -- saturated with poisons to kill the cancer, or at least keep it from spreading as the radiation bombarded the tumor. I had radiation five mornings a week for several weeks and at the same time had a new buddy -- a chemo pump that slowly dripped the chemicals into my medi-port 24/7 for the same amount of time.

Nearly two months of this went by -- all while my mom was often unconscious recovering (I hoped) from heart surgery and lung complications -- and then I was free of both forms of helpful torture.

(Remember, this is the condensed version.)

I then had a month or so of a cooling-off period. This was from mid-November 2007 to late December of that year, during which time my mom transferred to a rehab center in Orlando and my daughter Jennifer Kohn became Jennifer Kuz when she married Chris Kuz in December. The Friday before Christmas 2007, it was Dec. 21, I went under the skillful knife of Dr. Joseph Boyer, the chief of thoractic surgery for cancer patients at Florida Hospital and, yes, a Yankees fan. But first I had to undergo a PET scan, which found two "hot spots" of possible cancer and then the two biopsies -- to my liver and chest near the lungs -- to confirm that they were not cancerous.

After the surgery, I spent nearly three weeks in the hospital -- one of them in the ICU with a tube running from my stomach, out through my nose and to a suction and a TV whose sound would stay on after you bash it with your arm -- before I was able to go home weighing about 75 pounds lighter than before I was diagnosed with cancer.

After another recovery period, in which I consumed many oxycodone and then hydrocodone pills to ease the constant pain, I was cleared to return to work and in mid-February 2008 I walked back to the Orlando Sentinel's newsroom. Shocked, truly, I received two standing ovations from the many friends who supported me with cards, letters, calls, a scrapbook, e-mails and prayers during my ordeal. These are the people dreams are made of, wonderful friends and colleagues who kept me going, folks who I'll never in my lifetime be able to forget or repay for their many forms of kindness.

So in a nutshell, that is what I went through. And it's why I want to help keep others from going through the same thing. Maybe that's why I've made it this far; to keep you from coming down with this horrid disease. So I'll repeat some of the facts and tips here:

Cancer of the esophagus is among the most deadly forms of the disease an it also is among the fastest growing of the cancers, as society and work habits evolve. By the time you find out you have the cancer, it's practically too late. Luckily, it was discovered in my lower esophagus before the disease spread to my lymph nodes and the rest of my body.

I found it because it was difficult to swallow, so remember, if you find have difficulty swallowing food or drinks, see a doctor. If you've had heartburn for a long time and it seems to have gone away without medical help, see a doctor. It probably didn't. Both problems are signs of cancer or at least Barrett's Esophagus. Remember, Tums and Rolaids won't relieve you of cancer, they just ease the symptoms of heartburn. See a doctor. Get an endoscopy by a qualified gastro doc. Listen to what he or she says very carefully.

Oh, and keep a positive attitude. You'll need it for what's to come.

But first let's pray it never gets that far.

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