But seriously, A little more than three years ago I was confronted with the real possibility I wouldn't be here today. The dreaded "C word" crept into my life and quickly changed me from who I was to who I am.
Before, I overate with what I thought was impunity -- boy, was I wrong. Before, food couldn't be spicy enough. Before, I let stresses really get the better of me. Now, I monitor my intake and try to moderate it. Now, I still love and desire spicy foods, but limit the volume and veracity of my mouth-melting munchies. Now, I've walked through Hell so there's really not much that can get the best of me.
So it was three years ago, give or take, that I was diagnosed with stage T3, N0, M0 adenocarcinoma of my lower esophagus.
From the diagnosis, my entry into the world of high-tech, high-def medicine was rapid.
As I documented in this blog three years ago:
- Dr. Philip Styne, the best gastro doc in Orlando, spotted the tumor at the base of my esophagus -- near the gastro-esophageal junction -- and sent me to the best person he could have: Dr. Lee Zehngebot.
- Dr. Z walked me through what my next several months would be like. He told me about the chemo, radiation and surgery awaiting me.
- Dr. David Diamond was next on my welcome to the world of cancer. He's a wonderful radio-oncologist and developed my radiation therapy. Together, Drs. Z and D had participated in a national trial of a new therapy to cure esophageal cancer developed through the Minnie Pearl Cancer Research Network based in Nashville, Tenn. So in Orlando I had the two perfect doctors to cure me.
- They, plus surgeon Joseph Boyer, had handled dozens of similar cases and the project they'd worked on had increased the survivability percentage rate from the low-teens to the mid-thirties.
Yes, that's what I looked like after my
surgery in December 2007.
Sadly, most people died of the disease during that period -- which was just as the treatment that saved me was coming online. So I'm sure later numbers will be better.
There are some good statistics, as well. While cancer of the esophagus was growing among Americans between 2001 and 2007 at 0.6 percent a year, it declined by 0.4 percent a year among women. And deaths from this type of cancer were down among men and women overall -- down 0.4 percent a year -- though that's mostly because of the decline in deaths among women of 1.6 percent a year. Deaths among men during that period were up 1.2 percent a year. Detection at an early stage is directly related to your chance of survival.
One sad note is that while the incidence of esophageal cancer is growing, funding is barely moving up. Federal funding for research into cures for this dangerous cancer has increased only $700,000 a year between 2004 and 2008, from $21.7 million to $22.4 million. That's just a sliver of a fraction of the total National Cancer Institute's $4.9 billion budget in 2008.
Here's a final note, and a warning, from the Institute three years after my diagnosis: "Based on rates from 2005-2007, 0.50 percent of men and women born today will be diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus at some time during their lifetime. This number can also be expressed as 1 in 200 men and women will be diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus during their lifetime."
Please don't be one of them.
Read through this blog and heed the warnings from myself and others. Have check-ups if you experience some of the things I experienced three years ago. And if you do have this cancer or know someone who does, feel free to contact me via a comment on the blog. If there's anything I can do to help, I will.