With the Right Team Behind Him, Cancer Patient Overcomes a Scary Diagnosis

Author: Leslie Toldo

William Chesney didn’t think much of it when he first started having trouble swallowing food and taking his morning prescriptions.

“I thought it was odd, but I didn’t pay it much attention until a couple of weeks went by,” William said. “Then I went to my family doctor, who sent me for a scope.”

William had what appeared to be a tumor in his esophagus.  His primary care doctor referred him to the Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Bay Region in Bay City. 

“My initial thought was, ‘How did I get this?’ I didn’t know much about esophageal cancer.  I thought many things were going to kill me in my lifetime, but this wasn’t one of them,” William said.

When William met with his medical oncologist at Karmanos, he got something he was not expecting – hope.

“They told me the cancer could be taken care of,” William said. “It was like walking on sunshine.  I went from a deep dark cloud to dancing out of the office.”

William needed surgery to remove the tumor, but first, he had to have chemotherapy and radiation to shrink it.

“The whole team performed professionally,” William said. “They all took extra time to make sure everything was done right. “

William was referred to Surgical Oncologist Dr. Tolutope Oyasiji. Surgical oncologists are board-certified general surgeons who have spent an additional two to four years in fellowship training focused on cancer treatment.

“We collaborate with the other cancer specialists caring for patients in a multidisciplinary fashion to curate personalized and precision cancer treatment for each patient,” Dr. Oyasiji said.

Although a cancer diagnosis typically demands immediate attention, Dr. Oyasiji points out that patients do have the right to make decisions about who will be rendering their care.

“Patients have the right to request their cancer surgery be done by a surgical oncologist,” Dr. Oyasiji said. “You are your own strongest advocate. Never hesitate to politely ask your primary care provider if you are being sent to a surgical oncologist.”

Being your own advocate also means you should ask your surgeon a few questions during that initial visit:

  • If they are trained in the procedure, you are about to have.
  • If they are board-certified in surgical oncology.
  • If they participate regularly in multidisciplinary conferences to discuss patients.

Dr. Oyasiji also stresses the importance of getting a second opinion.

“Do not hesitate to do this. You stand a better chance of getting correct information about your cancer diagnosis and planned treatment when you obtain a proper second opinion with a surgical oncologist,” he said.

Having a great team is vital for any patient, but successful treatment has a lot to do with a patient’s attitude.  Dr. Oyasiji is quick to point out that William’s drive and motivation made all of the difference.

“William was strong-willed. His surgery went well but he was also motivated to work with his nurses and occupational and physical therapists during his post-op recovery in the hospital. Little surprise both his hospital stay and subsequent recovery were complication-free,” Dr. Oyasiji said.

For William, the goal was always survival.  He was committed to doing a few key things to stay on track during treatment.

“You have to stay positive, listen to your doctors, stay off the internet, and have some sort of support system,” William said. “Life is like reading a book one page at a time.  Just turn the page.”

To learn more about the surgical oncology team at Karmanos Cancer Institute at McLaren Flint, visit mclaren.org/flintcancer.