Surviving esophageal cancer

December 01, 2012
Wayne Treichel, Patient

Wayne Treichel was 62 when his wife convinced him to get an endoscopy and colonoscopy. He didn’t have any symptoms or pain, and was in good health, but his wife knew preventive screening was important. As it turns out, having those exams saved Wayne’s life.

His doctor diagnosed him with Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that causes portions of the lining in the esophagus (the muscular tube that carries food and saliva from the mouth to the stomach) to transform into tissue that is similar to the intestinal lining. And while patients who have Barrett’s esophagus may not have any symptoms, they can develop a form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

“After a second endoscopy (taken for a clinical trial), the doctor called me on a Friday night and told me I had cancer,” said Wayne. “That night, my life totally changed.”

For Barrett’s patients with advanced dysplasia like Wayne, surgically removing the esophagus may be the only answer.

Wayne had a couple of options: He could have laparoscopic (minimally invasive surgery) at UC Irvine, or he could go to another hospital and undergo traditional surgery. In most cases, the procedure can be performed laparoscopically, a feat that was impossible only a short time ago. Surgeons at UC Irvine Medical Center are experts in this minimally invasive technique, which removes only the diseased tissue. To Wayne the decision was simple: UC Irvine.

UC Irvine is the only facility in Orange County that performs laparascopic esophagealectomy. As a minimally invasive procedure, patients who undergo laparascopic esophagealectomy typically heal more quickly than those who receive a traditional procedure.

“My wife and I met with Dr. Ninh Nguyen and he talked me through everything, including the pros and cons of moving forward with the procedure,” said Wayne. “At the time, partial esophagectomies were relatively new. I was Dr. Nguyen’s 50th patient to receive this form of surgery.”

Recovery was difficult. In response to the stresses of possibly facing a future cancer diagnosis and additional surgeries, Wayne developed Celiac Disease, a disorder that makes it difficult to digest common foods. In fact, Wayne had lost 40 pounds in five months. Ultimately Dr. Nguyen employed an experimental treatment with a stent to help Wayne re-gain some weight.

“Having Dr. Nguyen put the stent in was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Wayne. “I came home and I had bacon and eggs that same day. I ate all the time and the weight started to come back.”

But the procedure wasn’t a permanent fix. Stents only last for 12 to 13 weeks and removal is extremely complicated.

“They had an entire team of physicians in the operating room during the procedure,” said Wayne. “And they were all instrumental in performing the task. They really took care of me.”

Now, five years later, Wayne is strong, healthy and fully recovered.

“I think about Dr. Nguyen all the time,” said Wayne. “I just contacted him the other day and asked if I could take him to lunch to thank him again for saving my life.”

Learn more about Dr. Nguyen ›

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