Brett and Pam Tomlinson

Our journey began when my husband Brett was an Addiction Counselor, and he decided to try a new path working with incarcerated youth. He became a guard in a juvenile facility. One night, while coming home from work, he decided to eat an apple, but the apple did not stay down. That was the beginning of his journey of being unable to keep food down. I said, “Off to the doctors you go!”

The doctors ordered a tube into his esophagus, and this very rude surgeon came out after the procedure, said it was cancer, and walked away from us. Since I am personally used to doctors being rude and off-putting, I decided to do something about it. A year before this all happened, I had a cancer scare (it ended up being nothing) and I was fortunate to encounter a most caring oncologist. Before leaving the hospital, I ensured that Brett was set up with that same oncologist. I had the oncologist order scans to be ready at Brett’s next appointment. Before the appointment, I researched every specialist I could think of and had a printout in a book to take with me to the oncologist appointment. At the first appointment in an exam room, as soon as the nice woman said, ” How are you doing?” I fell apart crying. After she left the room, Brett said, “You know I am not good at this talking stuff, and you are my voice, so dry your tears. You are my voice, so do the talking and get something done for me.”

So that is what I did.

When the oncologist and cancer resource advocate came in the room, I opened up my book and said, “I do not want something started next week or next month. By the time we leave today, I want a plan and specialist in place. I want every medication ordered that will help with the side effects from chemo so that I don’t have to run out and get them when he starts getting sick.”

And that’s what the oncologist did. I went to another esophagus specialist because I was not too fond of the first one. The specialist suggested a gastric surgeon because he saw something at the end of Brett’s esophagus. That gastric surgeon said there wasn’t anything we could do, and he sent us home to “get our affairs in order.” We were 60 miles from home. I cried the first 30 mins and then cussed the rest of the way. I told Brett to go straight to the oncologist. No appointment, but he was going to see us anyway. I wanted the doctor to get a plan going and quickly. So by the following week, we had Brett on 5fu. But no luck with that treatment. It could be because he had two lousy chemo ports, and the chemo, instead of going through his veins, went through his body. Then we tried Taxol and radiation. Brett had a bad reaction to the second dose of Taxol and got switched to Taxotere after that. After 30 days of radiation and four rounds of Taxotere, the tumor began to shrink. I said to the oncologist, “It’s time to find a surgeon.” The doctor agreed that chemo was no longer needed to treat Brett’s cancer. However, I was skeptical, thinking, “Yeah, right.” We found a surgeon who did the surgery and then six more rounds of chemo.

Since then, Brett has been cancer-free for three and half years!