Health

The Texas weatherman thought he had acid reflux. It was esophageal cancer

The Texas weatherman thought he had acid reflux.  It was esophageal cancer

The Texas weatherman thought he had acid reflux. It was esophageal cancer

When Rusty Garrett, 67, noticed that eating was becoming more painful, he wondered if it was related to acid reflux. His wife called him to see a doctor and he learned the reason for his agony.

Esophageal cancer he was never at the forefront of my mind. I heard about throat cancer,” the now-retired meteorologist for KWTX 10 in Waco, Texas, told TODAY. “But esophageal cancer was new.”

He shares his story to encourage others.

“I felt compelled to try to be that little voice that says, ‘Fight and never give up,'” he said. “That’s a challenge for me. Some days I wake up and I’m just like, ‘God, I can’t go any further one episode’… but I know I have to. I’m just compelled to try and give hope to somebody out there that it can go through.”

Eating problems lead to diagnosis

At about seven months, Garrett discovered that eating hurt.

“I noticed that swallowing was not a problem. It was when the food moved down to where the esophagus meets the stomach. And I didn’t know it at the time, but it stuck and I was like oh my god, wow, this was embarrassing,” Garrett recalled. “After that, I kind of backed away from what I knew was probably going to be difficult.”

The pain “in the middle of the chest” was sometimes so intense that it almost made him “double over”.

The Texas weatherman thought he had acid reflux.  It was esophageal cancer

Some days, Rusty Garrett’s cancer treatment is really hard. Thanks to the support and prayers of his family, friends and followers, he finds strength. He shares his story to give hope to others facing health challenges. (Courtesy of Rusty Garrett)

“I lost the desire to eat anything and my wife was worried — especially when she felt pain after eating,” Garrett said. “She encouraged me to see my doctor.” His doctor ordered an endoscopy, a test in which doctors insert a small camera through the mouth into the upper gastrointestinal tract. In late July, Garrett learned what was behind his weight loss and eating difficulties.

“I had a tumor. They biopsied it through an endoscope and it came back malignant,” he said. “So the journey has begun.”

The doctors told him it was either stage 2 or 3 esophageal cancer.

“Thank God my cancer didn’t metastasize,” he said. “It has not spread to other vital organs – kidneys, liver, lungs.”

He met with a surgeon, a radiation oncologist and a medical oncologist, and they decided that Garrett would first have chemotherapy and radiation for six weeks. In December, he will undergo surgery to remove the tumor and part of his esophagus and reattach it to his stomach.

“I said, ‘Is this survivable? Will I have any quality of life? And he said, ‘Sir, we’re looking for a cure,'” Garrett recalled. “I am very scared. I’m scared. But I’m also very hopeful.”

Once a week, he undergoes radiation, which lasts about 10 minutes, and once a week, he undergoes an infusion of chemotherapy for about two hours. He is also taking chemotherapy pills.

“I get really tired very quickly. I think I tolerate it as much as can be expected,” Garrett said. “The biggest and hardest part of this is trying not to lose any more weight.”

Eating is still difficult and the treatment causes additional irritation and discomfort. Before Garrett eats, he has to use something called “magic mouthwash,” a prescribed liquid medicine that includes lidocaine, Benadryl and Maalox.

Rusty Garrett shared his story to help others feel less alone.  (Courtesy of Rusty Garrett)

Rusty Garrett shared his story to help others feel less alone. (Courtesy of Rusty Garrett)

“It’s like taking milk with magnesium, but it tastes even worse. He gives it a syringe in the back of my throat and it, I guess, coats the esophagus and that area that’s inflamed from the tumor, so I can at least try to get the food down,” he said. “The tumor has obviously been through all this radiation, chemotherapy and she’s getting irritated… she really doesn’t like it when I put food down.”

Garrett must maintain his weight in order to undergo surgery. If he loses too much weight, he will need a feeding tube, which he would like to avoid until after surgery. Garrett said his tumor is located in a place called the GE junction, “where the esophagus meets the stomach,” and that’s what makes eating so painful. Food gets stuck and struggles to pass into the stomach.

“It’s hard to get that (magic mouthwash) taste out of my mouth, but it literally helps my ability to expel food. It’s just a difficult process that I go through every time I want to eat,” he explained. “I’m trying to eat shakes and soups.”

The operation will take about seven hours as doctors remove the cancerous parts of the esophagus and reattach it to the stomach. This will reduce his stomach capacity and as he recovers he will need a feeding tube for at least a month.

“I’ll probably be anxious to hurry and I can eat a hamburger, but I’ll have to work very slowly,” he said. “I’ll be in the hospital after surgery for a few weeks.”

He shares his story to inspire others

Since struggling to eat, Garrett finds himself appreciating things he never thought about before.

“When you sit down in front of a plate of food and eat it, you take it for granted that you can do it,” he said. “I have to learn to appreciate the little things. I learned so much about fighting discomfort. I’m trying to get my mind somewhere else.”

Rusty Garrett is grateful for the love and support of his family as he undergoes treatment for esophageal cancer.  (Courtesy of Rusty Garrett)

Rusty Garrett is grateful for the love and support of his family as he undergoes treatment for esophageal cancer. (Courtesy of Rusty Garrett)

For most of his adult life, Garrett had struggled with heart disease—his father had died of it—and he hoped to avoid the same fate. He would walk 10,000 steps a day to improve his heart health, and still tries to walk around his ranch or on the treadmill when he feels up to it.

“I really dedicated myself to trying to stay healthy for my heart — never thinking in a million years that I would be dealing with esophageal cancer,” he said.

He hopes others feel less alone when they hear his story.

“It’s easy to get into a deep hole and just marinate in the sadness of the situation. I know so many cancer patients who struggle with everyday life,” he said. “God has given me so many gifts, so many blessings that I just feel compelled (to give hope).”

This article was originally published on DANAS.com



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