Esophageal Cancer Survivor

Photo of James - Esophageal Cancer SurvivorI'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.