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On the Mend After Grueling Esophageal Cancer Treatment

In the fall of 2012 Lou Martin began having trouble swallowing. At age 70, Lou ha retired from his full-time chemical engineering position, but still consults for numerous companies. After struggling with various instances of pain and discomfort while eating, Lou decided something had to be done. In June 2013, he visited his doctor and received a barium swallow test, confirming that he had stage 1 Adenocarcinoma that had also affected one of his lymph nodes, but involved no metastasis.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of esophageal cancer in the United States, and it affects primarily white men. Lou was shocked when he was diagnosed, describing the feeling as being sucker punched, but he soon came to the realization that he could live and wanted to fight the cancer with all his might.

Lou spent most of his life working in Pittsburgh, and had experiences with numerous physicians at Allegheny General Hospital. Lou and his doctor decided that the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute had the necessary specialized equipment, and had seen many more cases similar to Lou’s. After doing some research, Lou also realized that there was a research arm allied with the AHN Cancer Institute.

Lou participated in a study that combined chemotherapy and radiation treatment, followed by surgery to remove the remaining cancer. The chemotherapy and radiation shrunk Lou’s tumor by a factor of three along with killing the cancer that had infected one of his lymph nodes. Finally, Lana Y. Schumacher, MD, co-director of the Esophageal and Lung Institute at Allegheny Health Network, removed the remaining cancer. After surgery, Lou faced a particularly difficult recovery, spending 108 days in the hospital.

"I had an incredible team of support at AGH. I remember when I spoke to Dr. Schumacher for the first time; she asked me what I wanted out of this. I told her I wanted to live long enough to see my grandkids graduate from high school and she told she thought we could do that," Lou said.

"Lou had extraordinary strength throughout the entirety of his treatment. Cancer treatments in older adults can be grueling," Dr. Schumacher said. "At AHN we bring together a highly skilled multidisciplinary team to determine the best course of treatment of each individual patient no matter the age."

Lou speaks little of the effects cancer treatments had on him, but rather the effects they had on his family. "I watched them panic from time to time…but most of all I was lucky, and I got to see the joy in my recovery, the joy when I left the hospital, the joy when I could walk again, and the joy now that I am almost back to normal."

It has been over three years since Lou’s fight with cancer really began. As his life continues to return to normal he is enjoying spending the winter in Florida as well as spending time with loved ones.