Esophageal Cancer Treatment: Chemo & Radiation
In February 2000, I began a new chapter in my life when I started esophageal cancer treatment. The top-notch medical team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center had diagnosed a Phase III, 5-centimeter cancerous tumor at the junction of my esophagus and stomach.
Now I was preparing for a six-week course of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation designed to shrink the size of the tumor.
Despite their assurances that this was the right course for me, I was not sure if this esophageal cancer treatment would work. Even if it did, my future was so uncertain that I called on God to help me through this part of my journey.
Proceeding In Faith
One evening, in response to my prayers, I came up with the saying: God sits on my right shoulder and there is nothing that He and I together can’t handle. That statement stayed with me each time I went through another treatment.
I faced six weeks of simultaneous chemo and radiation, and there were many days in which I was attacked by doubt. When I was overwhelmed by the uncertainty of my future, I would recall that statement and be comforted, knowing that God was with me.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment Begins
Since we had decided that I would receive my esophageal cancer treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, I needed to drive 100 miles round-trip each day, Monday to Friday, for the next six weeks to complete this phase of my journey.
I choose to use MSKCC for my esophageal cancer treatment rather than involve a second medical team at a clinic closer to my home in New Jersey.
I knew from my early business career the headaches of dealing with two service teams, one from the computer company and other from the telephone company. When there was an issue, I would inevitably hear from the computer company that the problem originated with the phone company. When I approached the phone company, they would say that the problem belonged to the computer company.
With my life in the balance, I wanted to reduce that chance that I might run into similar communication issues during my esophageal cancer treatment.
Simultaneous Chemo and Radiation Therapy
I started the first phase of my esophageal cancer treatment on a Monday. My wife, Ginny, and I would go to the Rockefeller Outpatient Pavilion on 53rd Street in New York City where they attached a needle to my mediport. I spent the first few hours receiving intravenous hydration, followed by the chemotherapy drug, Cisplatin.
When that process was complete, they attached a bag of the chemo drug, Taxol, to the pump around my waist and we were off to the Memorial Hospital location at 67th Street for the short radiation treatment. It actually took me longer to undress and get re-dressed than it took for the radiation treatment.
We drove home to New Jersey after the radiation treatment and for the rest of the day I would hear the pump cycling on and off. I kept thinking, I am injecting poison into my system to attack this monstrous cancer.
I could only hope that the good cells in my body were strong enough to withstand the battle ahead.
Support From Family and Friends
The daily commute to New York City placed a heavy burden on my wife, Ginny.
In order to give her some relief from the constant commute, a number of my friends, including my Knights of Columbus brothers, offered to take me in to New York each day for my treatments.
We set up a schedule where Ginny and I would go in on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and my friends would take me in on Tuesday and Thursday during the six week period.
Esophageal Cancer Treatment Reactions
With the exception of the first day of treatment, my reaction over the six weeks was excellent. When we returned home after my initial treatment, Ginny prepared her usual excellent meal, but the smell of food cooking in the kitchen made me nauseous.
I reacted to the sick feeling with dread. Would I feel this way for the entire six weeks? The thought of driving 100 miles a day through New York area traffic, only to come home to an evening spent in the bathroom was a discouraging prospect.
Thank God that first evening was the only bad reaction I had during the entire six weeks. None of the other side effects I had been warned to expect ever happened.
It made me wonder if the chemo and radiation were actually working. I still had a problem swallowing solid food since the tumor continued to block the food from passing through my esophagus into my stomach. But the MSKCC team reassured me that everything was proceeding as planned.
I stayed the course and after the six week period they took another CAT Scan and endoscopic ultrasound. I was reassured to learn that, as a result of the chemo and radiation, the 5-centimeter tumor blocking my esophagus had shrunk to 1-centimnter in diameter.
Rest And Recovery
Reaching the end of the simultaneous chemo and radiation was a relief, but I was not yet at the end of my esophageal cancer treatment. I had earned a six-week period of rest and recovery.
When I had regained my strength, I would tackle the final hurdle: surgery to remove what remained of my esophageal cancer tumor.
Bart Frazzitta is an esophageal cancer survivor and the founder of the Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation (ECEF). Read more of his story here >