An update on my current condition at end of this post (October 13, 2018)
This blog must go on hiatus for a time. This blogger has esophageal cancer. I am scheduled for surgery January 31 and anticipate a 3 month or so recovery.
I’ve thought of myself as a reasonably healthy guy, supported with regular doctor visits. And I’ve popped Tums for nearly 30 years. This is me in front of the Tums Building, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1991.
Who knew that antacids, constantly promoted by Big Pharma, could be masking important symptoms my body was trying to message. Or that cigarettes and alcohol in my younger years had created a rich breeding ground for esophageal cancer.
Sh*t happens. And I’ve usually learned a lot in the process. Seems the cancer was caught very early. I feel that I am in good hands with the surgical team at University of Maryland Medical Center. And I’m looking forward to a resurrection in the Springtime. In the meantime, here’s a science lesson to help prevent the next guy from getting esophageal cancer.
The digestive system breaks down food for the body to use. The esophagus is part of this system. It is a tube-shaped organ, almost 10 inches long, that moves solids and liquids from your throat to your stomach. It is located toward the back of your chest just in front of your spine.
The wall of the esophagus has four main layers.
- The inner layer that has contact with food is called the mucosa.
- The second layer of the esophageal wall is called the submucosa. It consists of connective tissue and blood and nerve cells. It also contains larger lymph vessels.
- The third layer is called the muscularis propria. It is mostly made of muscle fibers. These muscles help move food down the esophagus.
- The fourth layer is called the adventitia. It is mostly made of connective tissue. It covers the entire esophagus and connects the esophagus to nearby tissues.
Esophageal cancer occurs when cancer cells develop in the esophagus, a tube-like structure that runs from your throat to your stomach. Food goes from the mouth to the stomach through the esophagus. The cancer starts at the inner layer of the esophagus and can spread throughout the other layers of the esophagus and to other parts of the body (metastasis).
There are a number of factors which increase a person’s risk of developing esophageal cancer. They include:
- Smoking or other use of tobacco
- Heavy alcohol use
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which contents and acid from the stomach back up into the esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that affects the lower part of the esophagus and can lead to esophageal cancer; Barrett’s esophagus may be caused by GERD. Over time, stomach acid in the esophagus can cause changes in the cells that increase risk for adenocarcinoma.
In addition, certain groups — men, the elderly, and people who are obese — are at greater risk for esophageal cancer. Risk of adenocarcinoma of the esophagus is higher in white men, but squamous cell carcinoma of the esophagus is more common in Asian men and men of color.
Esophageal cancer is deadly and increasing rapidly
The type of esophageal cancer caused by reflux disease is increasing at a faster rate than any other cancer in the U.S. Sadly, only those who catch their cancer at the earliest stages are likely to be cured. So finding the cancer early is very important.
Only one in five patients diagnosed with esophageal cancer will survive five years because it is most often caught at late stages. The disease is often only discovered when patients have a hard time swallowing because of a large tumor in their esophagus.
Though considered a rare disease, esophageal cancer takes more American lives each year than melanoma skin cancer or cervical cancer.
Esophageal Cancer Surgery
Cancer Stigma And Silence Around The World
In 2007, LIVESTRONG executed a global cancer research study intended to give people affected by cancer a chance to share their cancer experiences and their perspectives on the cancer problem— a problem that is too often shrouded by stigma and silence.
Six “lessons learned” were derived from the global research results:
- Around the world, cancer continues to carry a significant amount of stigma; however, there are opportunities to capitalize upon shifting perceptions and positive change.
- Awareness of cancer prevention, early detection, treatment, and survival are on the rise; however, too many people still report that they feel uninformed when it comes to cancer.
- Communication is critical to decreasing cancer-related stigma, raising cancer awareness, and disseminating cancer education. People with a personal history of cancer—especially well-known or celebrity survivors—and multiple mass media channels are key resources for dissemination.
- The school system represents a potential venue for cancer education, and increasing cancer awareness among children may be an investment with high returns.
- When facing cancer, people around the world want information and emotional support for themselves and their families.
- Tobacco use and poor nutrition are widely acknowledged as cancer risks. Programs and policies that help people translate this awareness into action are needed.
My recovery (update October 13, 2018)
I notice people continue to visit this blog post which I’m glad about. Nine months after my esophagectomy, I’m at about 85% return to “normal”, and it remains to be seen what that looks like. My stomach is about 2/3 it’s former capacity so I’ve got to eat smaller portions 5-6 meals/day. I get sick if I eat too much and lose 3-5 lbs if I don’t eat enough on a given day, so that is a challenge. But we adapt. I’ve started a new consulting practice HoCoMD.solutions and doing more of the things I enjoy doing. Life goes on.
Here is a selfie of me with the pope at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in DC.