Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux disease. The good news is that if you have it more than once a month, it is a clear signal to see a doctor and start a treatment plan. The bad news is that heartburn is so common that many people tend to ignore this signal. At RefluxMD we often hear stories that touch our hearts – and this is one of them. I met Pat recently and when I told her I worked for RefluxMD, she opened up to me about her experience with GERD. This is her story.
Pat, as it turned out, was widowed at the young age of 37 when her husband succumbed to esophageal cancer. “When Bob mentioned to a coworker that he had an uncomfortable feeling in his chest, trouble swallowing, and a lump with some pain in his throat, she urged him to see a doctor. After he made several more comments over time, she finally told him that if he didn’t call to make an appointment, she would do it for him. Unfortunately, by that time Bob had been suffering these symptoms for several months, unbeknownst to me.”
Learn more: Difficulty swallowing? See your doctor
Life is Good!
At the age of 45, Bob had a good job, a beautiful wife, and a wide circle of friends. He was a “real foodie”, according to Pat. Life was indeed good for Bob. “He loved to grill and cook for his friends. I was really just his sous chef, and we would often host gala dinner parties for our friends and pair the wine with the food. It was great fun!”
Bob was always on the go. He worked out regularly at the gym and played a variety of sports, but “golf was his passion”. He made “dream trips” to Pebble Beach and Scotland to play the links. Having grown up in a small Massachusetts town about an hour from Worcester, Bob was a huge New England Patriots’ fan. He never missed a game on TV. Unfortunately, the Patriots didn’t win the Super Bowl until the January after his passing.
When Symptoms Are Too Much
When Bob finally told Pat about the lump in his throat, she wasn’t alarmed at first. According to Pat, he seemed healthy and happy, and except for a chronic heartburn condition, he was otherwise in great shape physically. As Pat thought more about Bob’s symptoms, she remembered that he had mentioned to her that he was only 15-years-old when he began “living on Rolaids” to keep his discomfort under control. He had also been a smoker as a young man, but had quit the habit several years earlier.
Bob’s family doctor referred him to a gastroenterologist, who performed an endoscopy. During that examination a tumor was discovered that required more testing. “They found the lump immediately and then did biopsies,” Pat said. The GI “estimated that the tumor had probably been there for quite a while, possibly for several months or even longer.”
Learn more: The role of biopsies in the diagnosis of GERD
“You Have Cancer”
A few days later they got the news that Bob had esophageal cancer. Pat said that she would never forget the moment she heard those terrible words. The doctor explained that Bob needed to start radiation and chemotherapy treatments immediately, and that surgery would also be an option if the treatments worked.
Life went on for Bob, and he did his very best to live life as normally as possible. Pat feels that a big part of his dealing with his illness was to continue to maintain a normal life, and operate as usual. Bob was a real champion, he never complained about anything, and rarely mentioned his cancer. He still worked everyday, played golf occasionally, and drove himself to the hospital for treatments. “Bob didn’t want to have me carting him around, although I would have gladly done it.” Bob had his life to live, and he was going to do it his way.
From Hope to Sadness
In October of 2002, 15 months after the initial diagnosis, the doctors reported that everything was looking good. Bob seemed to be recovering nicely and managing to withstand the chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Elated, Pat and Bob decided to renew their wedding vows in Hawaii to celebrate their 10th anniversary. “It was a glorious trip and we were both very optimistic about the future” Pat said.
But when they returned home, the next diagnostic scan detected a spot on Bob’s liver. More tests revealed the worst. Pat and Bob were completely devastated to learn that the cancer had spread to other areas of Bob’s body. In the months that followed, Bob continued on as a man of character fighting valiantly against cancer until his death in August of 2003, at the young age of 47.
Pat was heartbroken and lost without Bob. She now knows that Bob’s tumor didn’t show up overnight. And she can not help but wonder “if quicker action to see a doctor could have provided a much different outcome. It also makes me think twice about ignoring small changes in your condition as something you already have, and then just blowing it off because you think it’s nothing. Bob had lived with heartburn for so long, that’s exactly what he did.” He never thought his heartburn was a cause for concern until it was too late. If only we had……something we hear at RefluxMD far too often.
Learn more: Inside your esophagus: The damage caused by GERD
Memories and Time Can Heal a Broken Heart
More than 10 years later, Pat takes solace in her happy memories of Bob and says that he is still the funniest person she ever met. “Many people who knew him thought the same. Bob was always good-natured, cracking jokes, and generally loving life. People always wanted to be around Bob. He was the kind of person that made you feel good just by being around him. Just thinking about that makes me smile – and miss him.”