I had a problem – certainly not a big problem. Acid reflux, that very irritating stomach and throat burning caused from too much acidity in my stomach. I casually mentioned it to my doctor during an annual examination and he recommended an endoscopic examination to make sure it was nothing. I reluctantly agreed.
There are certain phrases that you hear stay with you long after a crisis. The first of five of these in my situation came from my gastroenterologist after seeing the pictures from my endoscopy. “ I don’t like the looks of this, Jim”. The lab results reported high grade dysplasia of the esophagus. A condition known as Barrett’s Escophagus is characterized by abnormal cells that were changing. It required close monitoring and some medication to see if the condition improved. During the next 12 months with numerous endoscopic exams , it did not improve even though I felt fine except for the my usual heartburn. When the doctor recommended meeting with a surgeon I thought no way. After a visit with the doctor and an explanation of the very complex surgery I announced “ no way”. I did not feel bad and was not going through an eight hour surgery in which my esophagus would be removed and my body torn apart, especially since the mortality rate of the surgery was above 5%. For the next year I remained adamant – I felt fine and was not going to do it despite pleadings from my wife and the medical community.
The turning point came at a cocktail party after a renowned oncologist speaker made a presentation on better health. Afterwards I conversed with the doctor, who I had never met, and gave him a brief description of my dilemma. His very direct response was “ Jim I recommend you put out that cigarette and put down that scotch and go directly back to the doctor. “ (phrase # 2)
Still not convinced I sought another opinion from another doctor. Phrase #3 “ you are being stubborn and stupid, your doctor is trying to save your life”. I went back to my gastroenterologist for one final consultation. Phrase # 4, “ Jim you are fifty. Without this surgery you will not see 55.”
Finally I succumbed to the surgery. Not easy and certainly with much apprehension. Then came phrase #5, three days after the surgery while still in the hospital. “ We have the results from the pathologist on your surgery. The high grade dysplasia had in deed turned cancerous however the surgeon with all of his wisdom had spotted the problem and in addition to removing 80 % of your esophagus he also took 30 % of your stomach. There appears to be no cancerous cells remaining. You were very fortunate. Waiting any longer would have been fatal.”
The recovery was not easy. Four months of missing work and numerous follow up visits. A few scares along the way as I dropped 50 pounds to 130 and was not eating. I was told I may never regain the weight and stamina after such a prolonged surgery. But I started to get better. On the advice of the doctor I started drinking beer and milkshakes. The weight started coming back as did the strength. Doctors were amazed at the recovery and I found myself featured on television as a model recovery patient from cancer of the esophagus.
I not only saw 55 but also 60 and then 65 and have no doubts 70 and beyond. I have seen my children married and welcomed grandchildren into this world during this period of time. I now gladly go in for biannual endoscopic examinations knowing that even if there would be a problem it would be caught in plenty of time to keep me on this earth. By the way, I have not had a cigarette since the doctor at the cocktail party told me to put it out.
The lesson: Please don’t fool around like I did and ignore the symptons and the advice of doctors because it might be too late. I was lucky thanks to great doctors, a great support system from family and friends and the prayers of many.