Bruce was experiencing dysphagia (difficulty with swallowing) and food sticking in his oesophagus as he tried to swallow, so went to see his GP in Kent for some advice. After several visits and aggravating symptoms, with worsening dysphagia and rectal bleeding, Bruce was receiving the same response from his GP, telling him he had indigestion and advising him to take indigestion tablets. Feeling unwell, knowing that something was not right, and feeling the need to take further action himself, Bruce asked his GP to refer him to a specialist, as he has the benefit of private healthcare.
At this point Bruce was concerned about the possibility of a stomach ulcer but was not worried about the potential for something more serious. He was unaware that difficulty with swallowing is a common first symptom of oesophageal cancer, caused by the tumour narrowing the passage in the oesophagus.
Bruce was referred to a specialist who, after performing a scan and an endoscopy, diagnosed Bruce with cancer of the oesophagus (in May 2014). He was told that the prognosis was dependent on the size and location of the tumour; if the tumour was advanced and inoperable, Bruce was told his prognosis was less than a year. As a husband and father to 3 children, this news was shocking and heartbreaking. Bruce comments, “It was completely out of the blue, it was a massive, horrendous shock to me. In my worst imagination, I thought they were going to say I had an ulcer. The one thing I hadn’t considered was cancer. I have a young family and they were devastated with the potential prognosis.”
Bruce was then referred to Mr James Gossage, Consultant General Surgeon at London Bridge Hospital, where he gave Bruce the good news that the cancer was operable. After further scans to locate the tumour more accurately in the lower oesophagus, and 3 months of chemotherapy, Bruce was then scanned again and told that the tumour had shrunk considerably. Mr Gossage then performed surgery on Bruce under general anaesthetic to remove the affected part of the stomach, nearly 2/3 of the whole stomach, and the oesophagus. The operation, called an Oesophagectomy, involved Mr Gossage pulling the stomach up into the chest to use it to replace the oesophagus. Bruce was in hospital 14 days for the surgery.
Bruce comments, “Now, after the surgery, the tumour is gone, it hasn’t spread, and there were no infections thankfully. So the operation was a great success, and I’m now cancer-free.”
Bruce was not considered at risk for oesophageal cancer, as a healthy, although slightly overweight, 57-year-old male, with a good diet and no history of this type of cancer. The individual risk factors for him are not clear.
Bruce is thankful that the cancer was caught early, as it hadn’t spread or grown, allowing the cancerous area to be removed. Currently, Bruce is off chemotherapy and medication, and is back at work after 8 months. He is having difficulties adjusting to not being able to eat certain foods or big portions, as some foods, particularly those high in glucose, such as chocolate, can trigger a hypoglycaemic response - making him shake, feel anxious, and feel faint, and prompt concerns about a potential recurrence of cancer. Whilst dealing with foods he can and cannot eat now, on the whole Bruce is feeling healthy and happy.
“James was absolutely fantastic, a really great guy and a fantastic doctor. As soon as I met him I liked him, I immediately warmed to him. He was very direct in his questioning and I knew I could trust him. He’s my hero, he saved my life, I can’t express how thankful I am to him.”