Barrett's Esophagus

A Personal Story

Jim's Journey with Esophageal Cancer
written by Jim's wife, Carolyn Corn, RN, MPH


Introduction

Jim's Journey Esophageal cancer is one of the rarest cancers in Western countries. However, the incidence has doubled in the last decade, affecting men most of all. 11,300 of the 13,400 people diagnosed every year die of Esophageal Cancer each year.

My name is Carolyn Corn. I lost my beloved husband of over 41 years to adenocarcinoma of the esophagus at the age of 63. His one year and 7 month journey through this illness is presented with the hope of providing insightful information to you, as a patient or caregiver. Even though I am a Registered Nurse with a Master's degree in Public Health, nothing had prepared me for this journey. I will document facts by chronological date. Personal comments follow the chronological events listed.

During Jim's fight against this dreadful disease, there have been 8 people, from our small circle, who have visited their physicians and are now being treated appropriately. Two people have discovered Barrett's Disease, two have had esophageal strictures dilated, one had a Nissen procedure done, three people are now on medication for GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease.

My primary reason for writing this article is to encourage people to treat indigestion and reflux disease very seriously. In our affluent American culture, heartburn is accepted as a normal thing that is easily treated with OTC (over the counter) products such as Tum's, Rolaid's, Zantac and Pepcid. Some advertisements for drugs also treat the problem lightly with the dancing pink stomach and give the message to treat your self. These products are very effective at treating the symptoms but underlying medical problems caused by the symptoms are often overlooked.

Symptoms

  • Persistent heartburn that requires antacids or other over-the-counter medications to alleviate.
  • Problems in swallowing
  • Waking up at night with heartburn or difficulty breathing/aspiration, due to stomach acids regurgitating into the esophagus
  • When lying down: back-flow of stomach contents into the esophagus
  • Coughing due to the previous symptoms
  • Feeling of discomfort at the base of your sternum due to the previous symptoms

Also ask yourself or your loved ones:
Does caffeine, alcohol, chocolate or spicy foods cause indigestion?

The bottom line is that if you or someone you know is having consistent symptoms like those listed above, they need to see a specialist to evaluate whether the symptoms of heartburn and reflux indicate a serious problem that could lead to cancer. Don't put it off! See a Doctor immediately!

Things I've learned:

  • Listen to your "gut" feelings about your body or those of your Family/Friends.
  • Seek early treatment. Treating the symptoms may disguise the disease underneath.
  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol. The surgeon said these are the worst substances you can put in your GI tract.
  • Avoid food and drink for 2-3 hours before bedtime.
  • Elevate the head of your bed, 6 inches or more, or use a wedge (available at medical supply stores).
  • PPI's (Proton Pump inhibitors) will decrease acid and heal esophageal erosions.
  • A Nissen fundoplication surgical procedure may prevent the necessity for daily PPI's.
  • Have regular endoscopic exams if you have Barrett's disease or erosions.
  • Trust no one blindly. Physicians are fallible people. Only stay with M.D.'s who can hear your concerns.
  • Become informed. Ask questions. Be active in your care. You know more about yourself than doctors do. At a doctor's visit, always have someone with you to hear comments and discuss relevant points.
  • Be wise in knowing when to let nature take its course. There are treatments worse than death.