One year ago today at about 12:30 in the afternoon (eastern US time), my younger brother John passed away after a three year battle with Esophageal Cancer. He was 52 years old. He got this because for years, he suffered heartburn. Acid indigestion; which distorted the DNA in his cells and made them cancerous.
There are so many facets to something like this, that even a year after, it's hard to quantify all of it.
For years, my brother experienced "Heartburn." Acid indigestion. Over the years before he took ill, there were times he would DRINK Mylanta or other antacids because the heartburn was so bad. None of us thought much of it; we ALL get heartburn from time to time. Mylanta, Rolaids, Tums and a multitude of other over-the-counter products are very successful at dealing with that issue. But all those times he was getting heartburn was setting the stage for his death . . .
What none of us realized was that repeated bouts of heartburn allows stomach acid to eat-away at the cells of the lower esophagus (the tube through which food gets to our stomach). After awhile, the stomach acid DISTORTS the DNA in some of those esophagus cells. Once the DNA becomes distorted, cells USUALLY just die. But when some of them fail to die, they begin growing in ways that are not normal: i.e. A tumor.
In _most_ cases of esophageal tumors, the tumor grows OUTWARD from the esophagus into the abdominal cavity. It doesn't hurt. There is no major sign of a tumor growing. That's what makes this particular cancer so bad: people don't even KNOW they have it until it has spread so far and so widely, that by the time they actually DO know something is wrong, it is way too late to do anything about it.
My brother's case was different: His tumor grew INSIDE the esophagus and began to obstruct the tube, preventing food from dropping into the stomach. He began feeling as though food he swallowed was "stuck" before it got to his stomach. He went and got checked, Docs (wrongly) told him it was "Acid Reflux", gave him meds to treat that and sent him on his way. But the problem didn't go away, it got worse.
John began to actually spit-up some of the food he had swallowed!
One Doctor decided to do an Endoscopy; send a camera down the esophagus to take a look. That's when they saw a 9cm tumor growing out of the wall of his esophagus and obstructing the tube. A Biopsy confirmed it was cancerous.
Further testing with radioactive sugar showed the cancer had already spread toward the top of his esophagus near his throat, to his lung, to his Aorta and onto the surface of his heart. They classified it as "Stage 4" -- the worst diagnosis. (Note: Cancer cells seem to like sugar very much. So when Docs inject a slightly radioactive version of sugar into a person and wait about an hour, medical scanners can pick-up where the sugar has rapidly accumulated . . . . and THAT is where the cancer cells are.)
A decision was made to treat this with surgery, Radiation and Chemo. Step one would be radiation. John was instructed to go to a off-site medical practice in Tunkhannock, PA where the tumor would be blasted with radiation several times a week for several weeks. He went.
Turns out, the "medical technician" blasted the WRONG PART of his esophagus; burning-up a good section and leaving the Tumor intact. Fucking morons.
Next was surgery, and this was a VERY big deal. John was on the operating table for thirteen (13) HOURS. Surgeons had to remove his esophagus to within 21mm of his throat, the pull his stomach upwards, making a new "tube" out of it through trimming, stitching/stapling, and attach the stomach to the throat.
During that surgery, biopsies were done of the remaining tube at the top of his throat, and of stomach tissue used to create the new food tube.
The surgery went very well, but a humorous side-effect took place. When a person is under anesthesia for that long, a condition called "post-anesthesia-Psychosis" can occur, and it did. After John awoke from the surgery, in his mind he was ready to get up and go home. Well, that just can't happen with surgery of this magnitude, so the Nurses told him "no."
John got out of bed, pulled the IV's out of his arm, and decided he would WALK (the fifty miles) home . . . . during the then-occurring snow storm! The hospital wouldn't give him his clothes, so he decided it would be OK for him to walk home in his bare feet and hospital gown . . . during the Snow storm!
Docs tried to convince him this was a bad idea, to no avail. They knew they couldn't get into a physical altercation to forcibly restrain him - it would tear-up the surgical stitches. So they convinced John they could give him a needle to "keep him warm" under his hospital gown. He agreed to accept the needle to keep warm. I don't know what was in the needle but seconds later it was "Good night, John!"
Hours later when he awoke, his psychosis abated and he agreed it was best to stay in the hospital.
The next day, the Biopsies came back: Pre-Cancer detected at the throat and in the stomach. FUCK!
More radiation - at a different and more competent facility. Then Chemo.
Do you know what Chemo is? Let me tell you: POISON.
Cancer cells are "fast-growing" so they eat faster than "normal" cells. Chemo kills cells. The "balancing act" that Doctors have to overcome is how to kill the cancer cells BEFORE they kill the rest of the patient. Yea, you read that right.
Chemo was vicious for him. He was so sick. Lost his hair - throwng up . . . . the whole nine yards of terrible side effects.
In the interim, john experienced MRSA (flesh-eating bacteria) infection, and lost a lot of weight. He was treated for that.
Months later, . . . . "Cancer-Free." Yeeeeeee Haaaaaa!
That was short-lived.
About a year later the cancer was back with a vengeance; except now, there was no surgical treatment. More radiation. More Chemo.
Another tumor began growing at the base of his throat and obstructed his ability to eat. He began to lose weight very fast. Docs inserted a feeding tube. Useless.
Then more infections. Then A-Fib, (Atrial fibrilation) a condition in which the top part of his heart was beating out of synch with the bottom. More meds.
In the week before his death, John suffered another serious infection. Our bodies use White Blood Cells to fight infection. White blood cells are "fast-growing" cells. Chemo kills them off.
The typical person walks around every day with a White cell count around 5,000. When we get a cold, it jumps to maybe 7,500. When we get a bad virus, the White Cell count can go up to 22,000 even 25,000 to battle the infection off.
My Brother's White Cell count when he got the final infection . . . . . . 4.
No, not 400 or 4,000. Just 4. So unless the medicines could kill the infection, his body literally had nothing left to fight back. The chemo killed-off his body's ability to fight off infection.
Long story short, on April 25, 2017 at about 12:30 in the afternoon, John died.
When this whole thing began, my brother was 5'8" tall and weighed 230 pounds. At the time of his death three years later, he weighed 98 pounds.
He suffered a long, painful, terrible death . . . which started because he got frequent heartburn.
Were there mistakes made in his treatment? Yes.
Did they speed his death? Hard to say.
But what I can say is, in my personal opinion, my brother died from the TREATMENT, not from the cancer. I personally believe the Chemo did more harm than good.
So for all you folks out there reading this, here's some advice: If you get heartburn, deal with it IMMEDIATELY. Don't wait. Because each time you feel that "burn" the stomach acid is getting closer and closer to distorting your DNA and once that happens, you're fucked.
I'll make mention of this during my radio show tonight from 9-11 PM eastern US time (GMT -0400) but it won't be a big part of the show. I will, however, stop to remember my baby brother.