Taking charge of esophageal cancer treatment

Tim Orellano knew something was wrong when minimal physical activity
made him short of breath. “Other than acid reflux, I considered myself
very healthy,” says Tim, who has played tennis for decades.

So, in Feb. 2014, Tim went to his doctor in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Bloodwork showed that his red blood cell count was very low, requiring
blood transfusions.

An endoscopy found a bleeding ulcer, and a biopsy revealed the cause
esophageal cancer.

“I was in shock,” Tim says.

Choosing to take charge of esophageal cancer

Soon after receiving the news, Tim and his wife, Gina, focused on
finding the best esophageal cancer treatment. “Cancer is probably even
harder on a caregiver, but Gina was just awesome at offering support,”
he says.

Tim knew he could feel sorry for himself, or he could take charge.
“I decided I was going to attack this very aggressively,” Tim says. “I
was going to own my cancer. It wasn’t going to own me.”

Tim created a binder with his health records and information
pertaining to his esophageal cancer diagnosis. He wrote down
questions, and began researching treatment options and seeking
doctors’ opinions.

The search for a surgeon

While Tim knew he might need an esophagectomy, a surgical removal of
his esophagus, he wanted to try an endoscopic mucosal resection
procedure, which was less invasive and would potentially allow him to
retain his esophagus.

Tim sought a specialist who was both knowledgeable and personable.
But he wasn’t happy with many of the doctors he considered. “One
surgeon didn’t seem to like me asking questions,” Tim says. Another
scheduled him for an endoscopic mucosal resection without telling Tim
that he hadn’t ever performed the procedure before.

When Tim cancelled that surgery, another doctor suggested he go to
MD Anderson. Within three days, Tim had
an appointment at MD Anderson with Wayne Hofstetter, M.D.

“My experience at MD Anderson was
different,” Tim says. “Dr. Hofstetter encouraged me to ask questions.
I wasn’t rushed, and I had all the information I needed. I even got to
talk to other patients with the same diagnosis.”

Tim’s esophageal cancer surgeries

Hofstetter performed an endoscopic mucosal resection to remove the
cancerous area in May 2014. But he wasn’t able to remove enough of the
area around the cancer to declare Tim cancer-free. He gave Tim a
choice: have an esophagectomy or return every six months to be
screened for cancer.

“I decided that I didn’t want to keep looking in the rearview mirror
or have it hanging over my head,” he says. So, Tim opted for an
esophagectomy, which Hofstetter performed in June 2014. The surgery
involved lifting his stomach to a higher position and forming a new
esophagus out of a portion of his stomach.

Life after an esophagectomy

For 10 days after his esophagectomy, Tim stayed in the hospital,
where he transitioned from a feeding tube to solid foods. Clinical
dietitian Joan H. Elizondo helped Tim adjust to his smaller stomach
and taught him to eat six small meals per day.

On a day he was feeling spry, Tim formed a conga line with the
nurses on his floor for fun. He also had “Kicking cancer’s butt”
buttons made for his care team. “I really felt like we all were on the
same team. Everyone from Surgery to Clinical Nutrition worked together
to help me get my health and strength back. They followed up with me
even after I went home,” Tim says. “Our connection was just tremendous.”

Now, two-and-a-half years after Tim’s esophagectomy, Dr. Hofstetter
often asks him to speak with his other patients. “I received so much
that I felt an obligation to give back,” Tim says. “It’s really
rewarding and has reinforced that cancer does not own me.”

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.