Survivor Story: Ignored Warning Signs Eventually Leads to Esophageal Cancer Diagnosis

The Salgi Esophageal Cancer Research Foundation is honored to share the following story of Todd C, an esophageal cancer survivor, whose story is very similar to many others who have been diagnosed.

For many, what seems to be irritating yet seemingly insignificant symptoms of recurrent indigestion, heartburn, burning in chest, difficulty eating or swallowing, etcetera are really warning signs of esophageal cancer.   If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms or may have one or more risk factors, please speak to your doctor about a referral to a gastroenterologist for screening.

We are very grateful to Todd for sharing his story and we hope that his story will not only help in our quest to raise awareness of esophageal cancer, the critical importance of earliest possible detection but it will also offer hope for those who are experiencing a diagnosis for themselves or for a loved one.

While esophageal cancer does often highlight poor statistics attributed to it due to low survival rates, we are always inspired to share stories of survivorship as testament to the fact that esophageal cancer can be beat.  With awareness, early detection and research, our charity is working to not only improve survival rates, but to make esophageal cancer history.

Thank you, Todd for sharing your story!


Todd C., Survivor, Diagnosed in October 1988:

“Every year about this time I find myself in awe that I have been blessed with another year. You see it was the first week of October 1998 that I was diagnosed with Stage III esophageal cancer.

Really, I had few symptoms, a little indigestion, nothing exceptional. Sometimes when I would eat there would be pain directly behind my breastbone when I would swallow, but it would be fleeting and manageable. My wife upon a visit to our family doctor with one of our children, mentioned my symptoms to our doctor who advised her that I should get scoped. When she shared this with me, I of course blew it off as nothing and didn’t think any more about it.

A month or so passed, one day I received a call from our family doctor asking me if I had made an appointment to get scoped yet, I replied that I had not. He encouraged me to do so, and to do it sooner rather than later. I remember hanging up the phone and thinking that it was quite odd to get a call from our doctor, he really wasn’t an alarmist and I didn’t really have that close of a relationship with him. Still, I ignored his advice.

One day while walking into work I was eating a banana while crossing the parking lot. I took a bite, chewed and swallowed, stopping me immediately in my tracks. I couldn’t breathe in or out, and it felt as if someone had stuck a knife in my chest. I waited slightly hunched over for the pain to ease and to be able to take a breath again, and as in the past, this did occur, and I went on about my day thinking that it was going to be a rough one. Again, I chose to ignore the warning sign.

I was 6’2” and weighed roughly 240 lbs. solid, an ole farm boy. I loved to work, and I loved to eat, but for some reason I found myself changing my diet, almost without even realizing it until I had lost about 30 pounds in a one-month period.  I found myself down to about 210 lbs. and told everyone around me how easy it was to lose weight.  Why I had simply made a few changes in my diet and look, I dropped 30 pounds in a month.

It was at that point that I started to put all the pieces together, the pain, the heartburn, my doctors concern to a point where he contacted me, the unintentional diet change, and of course the weight loss. I decided it was time to get checked. It had been about 4 months since my wife had made the initial statement to our family doctor about my symptoms.

I was referred to a wonderful gastrointestinal doctor and on the day of my scope I asked him what exactly we were going to do. He explained the procedure and added that he really didn’t expect to see anything alarming, but if he did, he might biopsy it. Upon completing the scope he told me that I had some irritation and bleeding in my esophagus right at the gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) where the stomach and esophagus come together, and because of that he did take some biopsies, but did not expect them to be anything.

Three days after my scope, I received a call at work from my doctor. He explained that he had received the report on my biopsies and that it came back “suspicious”. I asked suspicious of what and he stated that I had cancer. I asked what I needed to do. He said I would need at minimum a surgery and I told him that he was a surgeon and I liked him so okay.

His reply was NO. I said “oh, you don’t do that kind of surgery”, and he assured me that he did, but he would not do mine. I asked why, and he told me that at 36 years old I needed the best of the best and he was not it. He went on to inform me that there were doctors in the area that would do it, but not to let them. Obviously at this point I realized the gravity of my condition.

I ended up at case Western University Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio in the hands of some wonderful doctors, Dr. John Murphy, now retired, Dr. Judy Clayman now retired, and Dr. Amitah Chak, still there and an absolutely fantastic individual.

I completed 5 weeks of radiation, a Gastroesophagectomy via Ivors-Lewis pull up method, followed by 6 months of chemotherapy with Cisplatin and 5FU. I had 5 lymph nodes in my chest that were removed, come back positive, but no (metastasis) METs to any other organs.

There are many, many details, concerns, scares, etc. along the journey that I began in that first week in October of 1998. But I am here, I am healthy, I live a very, very full life. I work at my job 50+ hours a week. I have horses, and donkeys, and other livestock that I care for at home. My wife and I enjoy travelling and life is good.

There are still side effects, and life changes that I live with today, but nothing that can’t be managed.

I don’t know why I have been fortunate enough to survive this devastating disease. I have not made the best lifestyle choices along the way every time, but for whatever reason I am good.

A cancer diagnosis, no matter how bleak, is not a death sentence. I am proof of that. I am grateful to have had fantastic doctors, a wonderful wife, and incredible support team.

My fervent hope is that research can come up with the answers and cures to prevent others from having to take the path that I had to go down.”




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Content found on is for informational purposes only. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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