Esophageal Cancer and the Power of Being Positive

By Gary W. Chmielewski, MD

No patient represents the importance of the “mind-body” connection like Jeff Galas.

When I saw Mr. Galas in the fall of 2011 for his newly diagnosed cancer of the esophagus, for all practical purposes on the surface he looked like he would proceed directly to surgical for treatment. On further staging workup, though, he was found to have possible liver metastasis on PET scanning, and at that point surgery was off the table. Chemotherapy would likely be his only option.

When given the dire news, Mr. Galas was his usual positive self and said “Don’t worry, doc,  I am going to be the poster child for esophageal cancer. You will be operating on me yet.”

We already had a multidisciplinary team in place consisting of a surgeon, radiation oncologist and a oncologist — so Dr. William Leslie from oncology weighed in on the treatment options. To his credit, instead of recommending the standard agents, he suggested a new regime consisting of FOLFOX that has shown promise in metastatic GI cancers. Mr. Galas sailed through this regime, and when we restaged him, there was no evidence of metastasis.

Being cautiously optimistic, the Coleman Clinic GI team reviewed his case and presented his options of proceeding with radiation treatment or the original option of a minimally invasive esophagectomy if liver biopsy confirmed no disease. Mr. Galas opted for surgery and the minimally invasive approach. At time of laparoscopy, liver biopsy showed no signs of cancer spread to the liver, and a minimally invasive esophagectomy was completed. Mr Galas was home 10 days later, tolerating a diet and resuming many of his normal activities. Because a minimally invasive approach was used, he was able to restart his chemotherapy after only four weeks post-operatively. I am certain Mr. Galas’s positive mindset contributed to his excellent response to date.

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Gary W. Chmielewski, MD, is a thoracic surgeon at Rush University Medical Center.

Coping With Cancer: T-Shirt Time

By Margaret Nyman

October 6, 2009

I have a confession to make. Both Nate and I sleep in t-shirts. Although I have memories of frilly nighties that looked good, they all had scratchy seams. Nate remembers wearing guy-style pajamas with drawstrings and chest pockets. (We still wonder what he was supposed to keep in those pockets while sleeping.)

These days it’s tough to climb out of bed before dawn and leave our t-shirts behind, but no matter how difficult the day, we know their soothing comfort will be waiting at the end of it.

Today we had three medical tasks to accomplish. First was a blood draw, then an appointment with the head of our chemotherapy team, and lastly, radiation treatment #6. On paper it doesn’t sound like much, but pacing through it is like pushing a boulder uphill.

By mid-morning we were listening to our chemo doctor describe a study being conducted on pancreatic cancer patients. Nate had been “invited” to join this exclusive group of 15 participants. As the doctor described it, signing on for a new and controversial combination of chemo drugs would extend his life. He wouldn’t say by how much, but extending life sounded wonderful to both of us. Continue reading