I suppose, if I were to write a blog about my father’s struggles with cancer I should write about the thing itself.
Esophageal cancer is steadily increasing in prevalence, and it is a difficult and nasty cancer. 85% of people diagnosed with a stage III esophageal cancer do not survive three years. Most of the time, the cancer isn’t discovered until either stages III or IV, making it more deadly.
My parents came to visit me for the fourth of July in 2007. I went to Whole Foods, bought the best steaks I could find, and we had ourselves a lovely cookout. I spent $70 on steaks, I think. Something ridiculous. Anyways, that was the first time my father had trouble swallowing. By September, when we went to the beach for a family vacation over Labor Day, he had to leave the restaurant because he couldn’t get his dinner down.
That started off a series of doctor’s appointments, endoscopies, and the eventual diagnosis of esophageal cancer. We found out that December that my father had a condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus. Barrett’s Esophagus is the body’s reaction to chronic acid reflux; the soft and supple tissue of the esophagus toughens itself against the constant irritation from the acid, changing to tissue more similar to that of the intestines, tough. Often times this change is the precursor to the cells going out of control and becoming cancerous, which is what happened in my father’s case.
Dad was sent to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center in January of 2008; our doctors back home just weren’t accustomed to dealing with his illness, as it’s still not that common. And we live in a very rural area. We were told in February that it was cancer, and Dad started treatment shortly thereafter. He had five chemo rounds and 28 radiation treatments. He was given time to recover and in June he underwent an esophojectomny. The upper part of his stomach was removed along with his esophagus below his collar-bone. The remaining portion of his stomach was pulled up to his throat.
Dad recovered fairly quickly and for nearly two years, things seemed to be going well. He put on weight and bought a motorcycle, the first bike he’d had since I was born. My father had lived his life for me; turning in the hot rods and bikes to live by example. But surviving all that he went through, he figured he’d reward himself. Six months later, he bought a bigger Harley.
His pet scans came back clear, as did his blood work, and we thought that we were in the clear. Then this past spring he started to become constipated (please, Daddy, forgive me for telling all your business). More tests were run and a tumor was found inside his rectum, just inside, and it had almost completely blocked off his bowels. His weight dropped, worse than it had before, and he underwent 2 more rounds of chemo and 26 radiation treatments. He simply couldn’t take those last two.
After his treatment was concluded another surgery was scheduled to remove the tumor, but he just wasn’t getting better. In fact, he became worse, and the rest you can read about in this earlier post.
Here we find ourselves. Dad is to build up weight and strength until he can begin more chemotherapy. There will be no radiation for this third round, only chemo in the hopes to prolong his life.