Greg’s Oesophageal Cancer Story
My name is Greg Thomson, a 70-year-old business owner, and now semi-retired.
In late 2011, I became aware of excessive burping when I ate food and drank liquids of any form.
As you do, I lived with it for a couple of months always hoping it would go away. I went to my GP who initially diagnosed reflux and prescribed anti acid pills. But after approximately one month I went back as there was no improvement. She immediately suggested a gastroscopy, and in March 2012, I was diagnosed with a 10cm adenocarcinoma tumour.
The tumour was lodged partly in my stomach and partly in my oesophagus causing a “bottle neck” restriction. Usually there is enough space for air and food to pass through together, but because the entrance to my stomach was so narrow, every time I swallowed, I had to burp to let air out before I could swallow another mouthful. My constant burping now made sense! A key lesson here is to listen to your body.
From there, I was recommended a surgeon in Hamilton and an oncologist.
My most traumatic memory of that time was lying in a hospital bed with my family waiting for the biopsy results for the tumour. My surgeon comes into the room, with the bad news that nothing could be done. I vividly remember shaking like a leaf amid the tears and consternation of my family.
Being a Christian family with a strong faith, a lot of praying went on at that moment which miraculously resulted in a change of prognosis the next morning. The surgeon’s tone had dramatically changed from the night before, and he now informed me that he would operate which would give me a few more years.
I was prescribed a chemotherapy course of 9 weeks initially to reduce the tumour for surgery. The beginning of each 3-week bout started with an 8-hour hospital infusion. I took chemo pills and a bunch of other pills (to help me get through it) in the weeks between the infusions.
Fortunately for me, chemo did not debilitate me too much, it wasn’t nice and at times you felt sick but it was always on the same days in the cycle, so you knew it was coming. The end of the 3-week cycles were much better, and then you got to go through it all again! At least once during this time, the chemo was pushed back a week as my bloods showed I wasn’t well enough to have it.
My surgery took place in July 2012 with my surgeon using the Ivor Lewis procedure. This method calls for a loosening of the stomach so it can be lifted up to re-join the oesophagus after the tumour is removed. The surgeon then entered from my back, breaking a rib and collapsing a lung to remove the tumour.
The 24 hours post-surgery was the toughest part of my journey, my body did not take well to a major intrusion! I then spent 12 days recovering in hospital, and after being home for a month I started a post-surgery chemo regime, the same as the first one.
The reason for further chemo was to pick up any rogue cancer cells that might have got away, even though the surgeon had got a clear demarcation around the tumour. Another reason was the possibility that there was cancer in my lymph nodes.
This was voluntary, for which I’m very grateful for having, because 10 years later I have beaten the odds and I am regarded as clear of cancer. Of course, I can’t categorically say it was post-chemo that did it but the lesson here is to take all that the doctors recommend!
There have been a lot of challenges in the recovery, like needing iron injections, learning to eat again, coping with stomach dumps, having acid reflux and trying to put weight on.
My surgeon said it would take two years for my body to fully recover from the trauma of treatment. He was right – it was a very gradual recovery, but two years after the treatment finished I was feeling a lot better. And after 5 years, I virtually had no problems apart from my acid reflux, and the occasional stomach dump when I can’t resist something sweet. This is a very small price to pay for the life I now have!