Esophageal Cancer Treatment: Chemo & Radiation

Bart Frazzitta's Esophageal Cancer TreatmentIn 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.

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Bart Frazzitta is an esophageal cancer survivor and the founder of the Esophageal Cancer Education Foundation (ECEF). Read more of his story here >

12 Comments



12 Responses to Esophageal Cancer Treatment: Chemo & Radiation

  1. Sandy O'Bryan says:

    My husband, age 57, was diagnosed with EC in March of 2017. His was rather unique from most EC, his was in the middle portion of his esophagus. He also had six weeks of chemo and 23 days of radiation. He didn’t do as well with his treatment. Of the six weeks he spent 3 weekends in the hospital dehydrated from constant vomiting. He lost 50 pounds and didn’t really have it to lose. We were so glad when that stage was over, we were literally counting the days. On a brighter note, he had his esophagectomy on June 21, 2017 and to this day is doing wonderful! Eating well, gaining weight, sleeping well! We also found out his pathology from the surgery was completely clear of cancer cells and he does not have to take any follow up chemo (praising God for that). We had only been married for six months when he was diagnosed (my second marriage, his first). Our plans are to try and take a second honeymoon in August to begin our “new” celebration of life together.

    • bart says:

      Hi Sandy

      It is good to hear great outcomes. Have him stay positive as his journey through life continues. God is good.

      Take care

      Bart

  2. Jo says:

    Wonderful stories my husband just diognosed 2 weeks ago. He is scheduled for a pet scan , untrained sound and a pulmonary test as well. If the cancer is not outsid the esophagus, he will undergo chemradition. After that is over, surgery. God is our rock as well and I know he will be with us tpfor our entire journey and forward,

    • bart says:

      HI Jo

      I hope he is having all of this done at a cancer center that has done at least 40 of these a year. How many of the esophagectomy surgeries has the surgeon done in the last 12 months. Please stay in touch.

      Take care

      Bart

  3. Jimmie Davis says:

    I am in the middle of ri my treatments of chemo-radiation Just got my third chemo yesterday and radiation Stage 3 because 2 lymph nodes were involved. No nausea and no pain so far!!! They tell me that by the 4th week on it gets really bad. I am still able to get liquids down my throat and have the Med-Port and stomach tube. Do some people Never have bad side effects?? How and My Jesus are with me and I know He is holding my hand. Please talk to me. I am going to Methodist Cancer Center. Thank You!!!

    • bart says:

      Jimmie

      Everybody is different. Although they are saying that the worse reaction is in the fourth round of chemo that was not the case with me. I had chemo 24 hours a day 5 days a week for six weeks and radiation during the same time and I was told about the same negative thing as you yet there were no side effects. I even asked half way through if the drugs were working as what they said I should experience never happened. I was a stage III patient as well. So don’t worry about the future since you have no control over the future. Live the present and find good in it.

      I came up with a saying that I would repeat in my mind each time I went for a treatment and that is “God sits on my right shoulder and there is nothing that He and I together can’t handle.”

      Be positive about what is going on and

      Take care

      Bart

  4. Mary Jones says:

    Hello,

    I was diagnosed with Esophageal cancer stage 3 on August 23, 2018. My treatment was pretty standard and included 28 days of radiation and 6 rounds of chemo with a chemo pump after each treatment for an additional 72 hours. I had my surgery/ esophagectomy on December 19th of the same year. I have been blessed because I had absolutely no side effects from radiation, chemo, and I sailed through surgery. The cancer did not spread outside of the esophagus!!

    My problems have come after. I can’t seem to get food down and have gone from 275 lbs to 123 lbs. Thank God I had the weight to lose. In 2019 I had 28 EGD’s with dilatation. This year is about the same so far. My gastroenterologist did a dilation ten days ago and said that my scar tissue is not responding normally. He said it was like elastic and snaps back into place after he stretches it. My surgeon in Rochester told me horror stories about stents, so I am afraid of them. We have tried steroid shots to slow the growth of the scar tissue, but it is just temporary. Has anyone else gone through this?? If so does anyone have any suggestions?

    Thank you Bart for any help you can offer.

    • bart says:

      HI Mary

      When the gastroenterologist does the dilation how long before you need it again? They do have a dilation that you can do at home each day if necessary. I believe it is called the Maloney Dilator. You will be instructed by your surgeon and you will do it in front of him before they will let you do it on your own. I know several people who do this and it becomes very routine each day. This will eliminate stents which I think should be use only as a last resort. Let me know how you do. If you want I can put you in touch with a patient who does this. Send me an email bart@fightec.org

      Take care

      Bart

      Take care”Bart

      • Mary Jones says:

        Hi Bart,

        Thank you for your reply. My surgeon did have me self dilate, sadly it didn’t work well. The anastomosis is not straight, there is a small bend in it and the dilator cannot traverse the stricture. It just curled back up on itself. So that is not an option. Recently, I have been having stretches every two weeks. I am having another one on the 18th of this month. He is thinking of making incisions in the scar tissue to widen it and perhaps get it to heal in a more open position. I tolerate the dilations well and if this is my new normal, I am fine with it.

        I have so many blessings in my life and if struggling to eat is my only problem, I can accept that. I have a wonderful gastroenterologist who drops everything when I call for a stretch.

        Thank you Bart for Having this forum for all of us to ask questions. I like to read about others that are going through the same issues, it gives a sense of community. I don’t know any others who have gone through this and my family doesn’t always understand my frustrations. They are wonderful, but I don’t want to burden them or make them worry.

        Thanks for listening Bart.

        Mary

        • bart says:

          Mary

          We do have conference call support group meetings on a monthly basis. We have a group of patients that meets on a Wednesday evening and one that meets on a Thursday evening. Both are at 8:00 PM (EDT). If you are interested just go to our web site http://www.fightec.org and click on the JOIN button and click on support group question and we can get you that information. There is no cost involved in participating in these calls.

          Look forward to hearing from you

          Take care

          Bart

  5. Cathryn Chambers says:

    Pat scan and chemo and radiation on the map for me these coming weeks. I need to join this group.

    Thanks

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