After suffering from acid reflux for years, doctors discovered my valve below the esophagus no longer worked properly, so I underwent the Nissen Fundoplication surgery, followed by a slow and challenging recovery.
I also interviewed George Mickle, who also suffers from acid reflux.
"Now, I'm able to swallow without it hurting so I'm getting better and stronger every day," said 52-year old George Mickle, who has taken medicine for years daily to treat his acid reflux. Then one day he had trouble swallowing, went to the doctor and received a shocking diagnosis.
"It's hard telling people, friends, family, I have cancer," George said.
Cancer of the esophagus caused from reflux, though once a very rare disease, has become much more common in recent years.
"When I started my practice in the 80's, esophageal cancer like this didn't exist as a disease in the United States," Dr. Rosemurgy explained. He's the Director of the Surgical Digestive Disorders and GERD Center at Florida Hospital Tampa.
Dr. Rosemurgy says more and more people are being diagnosed with esophageal cancer because more and more Americans are overweight, putting extra pressure on the body.
"In our population today, in part because of obesity, about 60 percent of the people over age 55 have hiatal hernias, which means it puts this valve mechanism in a tough spot," Dr. Rosemurgy explained.
That extra acid production comes from extra weight and extra stress too. And with more people using over the counter antacids and proton pump inhibitors like the 'Purple Pill' to deal with the heartburn and uncomfortable symptoms, Dr. Rosemurgy says the real problem goes undiagnosed.
"The FDA will say that the (PPI) treatment be given for only 6 weeks. That's what it's approved for but people could be on it for years. And one of the things about the medications is that they don't stop reflux, they stop acid," Rosemurgy explained.
I worried I'd become part of that growing health problem, as I've suffered with gastroesophageal reflux disease most of my life. I've taken medication for years, trying to mask the pain. Stress has caused my acid reflux and the condition has escalated over time.
But the pain got so bad over the last few months, I finally went for an endoscopy and doctors discovered my esophageal valve that's supposed to keep acids down in my stomach had deteriorated and no longer functioned properly.
"Here, there is no valve. This is a valve we construct after surgery. However, in your case, you had no valve," said Dr. Sherona Ross, Florida Hospital's Surgical Endoscopy Director explained, as she showed me the video exam of my esophagus.
So I checked into Florida Hospital Tampa on June 20, 2013 to undergo Nissen Fundoplication surgery to stop my acid reflux from further damaging my insides.
"Simplistically, it's like taking your stomach and wrapping it around your esophagus, and then suturing it," explained Dr. Rosemurgy.
I was definitely nervous the morning of my surgery but after prepping my body with only clear liquids for over two days, I was starving and ready for it to be over!
"Let's hope this goes well. I've got high hopes. I'm keeping my fingers crossed," I said to my photographer, just as they wheeled me into surgery.
"Take big deep breaths," Florida Hospital's anesthesiologist kept repeating to me over and over again.
Once I was fully under anesthesia, Dr. Rosemurgy and Dr. Ross went through my belly button laparoscopically to create a new valve and fix my hiatal hernia.
"First thing we are going to do is local anesthesia to minimize her post operative pain," said Dr. Rosemurgy during the procedure.
The surgery lasted about an hour and I spent a few days in the hospital recovering. But the doctors felt confident in how the procedure went.
"Will you be normal after the operation? That's my hope," Dr Rosemurgy said.
So am I normal now? Unfortunately, I'm not pain free, still experiencing a throbbing pain under my breast bone which feels just like reflux. But the surgeons believe it's esophageal spasms, a common occurrence when the esophagus is still swollen and healing.
After seven weeks, I still cannot eat solids but I understand it may take six months to a year for my body to completely heal.
Meanwhile, George Mickle's surgery to have his entire esophagus with the tumor removed was successful. However, the cancer spread to his lymph nodes so he will start a second round of chemotherapy for 26 weeks in September. He remains very optimistic and we wish him well.
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