Stories of Hope
Esophageal Cancer Survivor Moving Forward
Article date: July 30, 2014
"Pouting about it isn't going to change anything. I'm going to do whatever I need to do to get better. Esophageal cancer is life changing, in many ways. But with support and patience one can lead a normal, thriving life."
By Stacy Simon
Esophageal cancer survivor Jim Tinnes, 47, says he never thought he’d be dealing with cancer. He considered himself healthy and active, enjoyed running and dirt track racing, and had never had a major surgery. But in February 2014 a diagnosis of diverticulitis – a painful condition of the colon – led to a colonoscopy and upper endoscopy. Five tumors were found in his lower esophagus.
A biopsy of one of the larger tumors confirmed that Tinnes had cancer and would need surgery to remove his entire esophagus and several lymph nodes. Although he admits to being nervous and scared, Tinnes says he was determined to do whatever was needed to fix the problem.
“My wife took it harder than I did,” said Tinnes.
‘Better than the alternative’
The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the throat to the stomach. When it’s removed through surgery, part of the stomach is pulled up into the chest or neck to become the new esophagus.
“After surgery, there’s a lot of discomfort,” said Tinnes. “There are a lot of temporary things to get through, but overall it’s better than the alternative.”
In the month since Tinnes came home from the hospital, he’s had to learn to eat a lot more slowly, take smaller bites, and eat only a little at a time. As a result, he’s lost 20 lbs. His voice gets hoarse quickly, which interferes with his ability to talk. He doesn’t have the strength he’s used to, and is frustrated that he can’t be as active as he’d like.
Help and support
Tinnes said his wife and daughter have helped him through a lot of his recovery, but that depending on others for help has not come easily. For example, he says he did not like having to ask his 10-year-old daughter to do general chores around the house that on a typical day were his responsibility.
Tinnes found an additional source of support through Imerman Angels, a program he learned about from the American Cancer Society. The program pairs cancer patients and caregivers with a trained volunteer who has been through a similar experience. Tinnes, who lives in New Jersey, spoke several times with an esophagus cancer survivor from Kentucky who also had his esophagus removed. He gave Tinnes a heads-up about surgery side effects.
“He was very helpful,” said Tinnes. “A lot of stuff I experienced were things he had told me about, so I knew it was OK.”
‘90% back to normal’
Today Tinnes says he’s about 90% back to normal and moving forward. He figures that other than his diet, once he recovers from surgery his life isn’t going to be very different from before his cancer diagnosis. Still, he says, he has good days and bad days.
“But what are you going to do?” says Tinnes. “Pouting about it isn’t going to change anything. I’m going to do whatever I need to do to get better. Esophageal cancer is life changing, in many ways. But with support and patience one can lead a normal, thriving life.”