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It all started with just a piece of chicken. In mid-December I was attending a Rotary meeting in Alexandria and I choked on a piece of fried chicken. It lodged in my esophagus and wouldn't go down. (It was in my esophagus, not my trachea, so I could still breathe.)
This wasn't the first time this has happened; it has happened a few times over the last couple of years, but it has always cleared shortly. I always figured I just didn't chew enough times and was being punished for not remembering what Mother taught me. This time it didn't clear after an hour so we went to the Emergency Room. They sent me to the Surgery Center to have an endoscopy.
While the Dr. was doing the endoscopy he took a biopsy of an ulcerated area. These cells turned out to be adenocarcinoma and we got the pathology report on Dec 23rd. Needless to say we shocked to learn that I had esophageal cancer. So started our journey with this disease.
We asked Dr. McCrery (who did the endoscopy) the normal course of treatment and he explained it usually involves chemo, radiation and surgery. He explained that it all could be done in Alexandria but they do only a few of these surgeries each year.
We asked for a referral to the Mayo Clinic and learned later that day that we could get into Mayo but not until January 9th. The internet is great for some things but the information on EC (esophogeal cancer) was pretty scary. The long-term (5 yr) survial is less than 20%. So many times it is discovered late and many patients live less than a year after diagnosis. That was pretty scary to learn.
We spent Christmas weekend with Terri's kids home for the holiday and we didn't want to spoil their weekend. We kept our "little secret" and finally told Terri's daughter Rachel as she was preparing to return to MSP. We then called my daughter Lara and Terri's son, Lucas, and told them the news. My oldest (she says #1 daughter) was in Thailand on vacation so we didn't want to bother her until we had more information on the stage of the cancer. Needless to say, the kids were very shook up but it was nice to not be keeping a secret any longer.
Over the weekend I had done a lot of reading. The name M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston kept coming up. They had a team dedicated to EC and were doing some cutting edge research. They were one of a handfull of centers in the U.S. that used proton therapy instead of radiation. (Mayo is building such a center in Rochester and Scottsdale but they won't be open for 4 years) I called M.D. Anderson right after Christmas and they could get me in on January 2, so we made plans to go to Houston for a consult.
We couldn't get there soon enough, anxious to find out the stage of the tumor and my long-term prognosis.