- Seen two daughters married;
- Gained two wonderful granddaughters;
- Seen all my children blossom into amazing adults;
- Reconnected with friends and family from years ago;
- Educated people I'd never met, and hopefully saved a couple of lives;
- Met people I never would have under different circumstances; and
It was about this time in 2007 that I agreed to see my doctor, John Pfeiffer in Celebration, Fla. I'd been distracted by an apparently very successful diet and my mother's illness, and put off seeing the doc until I was persuaded to get a checkup.
That's what my esophagus looked like when it was sick.
It was the start of this disaster known as cancer of the esophagus -- a disease that nearly killed me. It claims about 88 percent of its victims, data show. Let's catch up.
I guess I've been the lucky one. In just the past few weeks, I lost a friend to this ailment and made a new acquaintance who is coping with it at a rather advanced age. Lucky. Depends on your definition. If surviving is luck, then so far I'm pretty damned lucky. But acquiring it in the first place was anything but luck.
Rather, it took years of hard work and practice. Overeating. Gaining weight. Spicy foods. It was the triple crown needed to acquire Barrett's esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition in which the lining of the organ alters to cope with the poor dietary choices. My hiatial hernia didn't hurt the cause either.
I knew something was wrong as soon as I awakened about 20 minutes after the five-minute procedure was supposed to end. "There was some swelling. You may need surgery," Dr. Styne told me when I woke up. He'd taken biopsies of my lower esophagus, where this swelling was really a cancerous mass.
My Port after it was removed.
Nutren 1.5. The breakfast of champions, if champions have
no taste buds and can't eat anything else. Anything. Else.
All the while, I tried to eat as much as I could even as I was losing weight. We went to TooJays and Outback as often as possible to reward me for putting up with the crap and to fatten me up, so to speak.
A laser is used to align my tattoos to the proper position
for radiation treatments.
My new organ is called a neo-esophagus.
OK, that was then. Since, the road to recovery has been bumpy. Bumpy for my body and bumpier, still, for friends and family who have had to put up with what's left of me.
That's what my belly looked like after
surgery. You don't want this to happen
to you. Trust me.
For example, just a few weeks ago I received an email from a woman in Georgia about her father. Veleta Floren told me all about her dad, Jack Holley, who was diagnosed in June. He's had a rough go and is still consuming just the wonderful liquid diet I was provided called Nutren 1.4 (artificially flavored vanilla for me, see post at http://cancervivor.blogspot.com/2007/10/is-it-soup-yet.html). But the thin tunnel down his esophagus is opening and he can swallow a minimal amount of liquids. You can read about Jack at http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jackholley.
Jim passed away a few weeks ago after his cancer re-appeared a few months ago by attacking his neo-esophagus and liver. He put up a hell of a fight, something he really didn't want to do. He stuck it out and is one of the bravest men I've known.
I've also done some more research. While cancer of the esophagus is continuing its march of death, the survival rate isn't really improving through advances in treatments. Docs now do the surgery that kept me hospitalized for weeks laproscopically. The length of hospital stays is down and the chemo therapies are being refined.
Try not to be among those who acquires the disease. Trust me, it sucks. Americans have experienced a rapid growth of incidence in the disease. Our dietary habits have huge role. And by huge, I mean filling our bellies. We do that with all kinds of crap and then wonder why we get heartburn. Greasy and fatty foods are the behind the growth of our large rears that are, well, behind us. They lead to the heartburn that leads to the Barrett's esophagus that leads to cancer. Sort of like the neck bone's connected to the back bone, etc.
If you've been eating like this, think about it and change your habits. You may also experience some signs that you are developing problems, and if you do please see a gastroenterologist. For examplie, heartburn and acid reflux lead to esophageal damage. Your heart isn't burning. Your lower esophagus is. It's literally being digested by your stomach fluids, and it reacts by adding, over time, scar tissue and then protective cells to block the acid. But these mutations, called Barrett's esophagus, are pre-cancer cells and without treatment will result in cancer. PPIs, or proton-pump inhibitors, which help keep your stomach from creating acid, are drugs that can protect you. They're meds like Prilosec, Kapidex, AciPhex and others. They work. See your doc.
So unless you really want years of horror stories to tell friends, family and children, or worse, I encourage you to see a gastroenterologist and take care of yourself.