Esophageal Cancer Survivor

Photo of James - Esophageal Cancer Survivor

I'm James and I'm 65 years old. For the past 36 years, I've worked for the Seattle Times where I am a state area manager in circulation and responsible for covering one-third of the state of Washington. I'm married to Sheryl and have five step-children.

My family is wonderful. I've always had a great job and for many years, I didn't have any serious health problems. But 10 months ago I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Today, I can say I'm a survivor of this terrible disease thanks to the care I received at Virginia Mason.

It all started a while back when I kept coming down with pneumonia. I would get treated and it would clear up, and then it would be back. Just before Christmas in 2014, I had to call 911 because I was having so much trouble breathing. They took me to a hospital on the Eastside where I live but the doctors there could not figure out why I was having this problem. They did X-rays and saw blotches on my lungs, but since I had pneumonia they weren't concerned about them. While they treated me for the pneumonia, they kept looking for what was causing it.

“I had confidence in my Virginia Mason surgeon from day one. Everything was thoroughly explained to me so I was ready.”

I think it was the third time I got X-rays that they spotted something that didn't look right. They put a scope into my lungs but didn't see anything. My care at that point wasn't being handled very well. I was told that when I went home, it was okay for me to eat solid food. When I did I started choking so badly that we had to make another 911 call and I spent more time in the hospital.

This time, they did a "swallow" test where they watch as liquid goes down the esophagus. From this test, they could see a tiny bit of liquid leaking into my lungs. This leakage was probably what was causing the pneumonia. They put me to sleep and did an endoscopy where they use a scope to look inside the esophagus. That's when they found I had a large tumor.

Even without getting the results of the subsequent biopsy, my doctor was certain I had cancer. He said that I would probably need a complex operation on my esophagus to remove the tumor and that there was a doctor at Virginia Mason who had done 800 of these operations.

I did my own research and agreed with him that that's where I needed to go. I am so glad I became a Virginia Mason patient at that point. I think it saved my life. I know two people who were treated for the same type of esophageal cancer, but not at Virginia Mason. Neither of them are alive today.

I had confidence in my Virginia Mason surgeon from day one. Everything was thoroughly explained to me so I was ready. The operation lasted more than seven hours, during which the cancerous tumor was removed and a new esophagus built from my stomach.

I was in the hospital on a feeding tube for 12 days. Every person who took care of me was great. That was last October. I was back to work part time in February, and full time about a month later. In addition to the surgery I had chemo and radiation treatments. When I had my first "PET" scan recently, there was no sign of cancer at all.

I was so impressed with my care at Virginia Mason that I plan to become a volunteer. I want to give back and maybe help other cancer patients like me.