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Robert Vasquez: Esophageal Cancer Recovery

Quality Care for Esophageal Cancer Helps Robert Gain a New Lease on Life

When swallowing became difficult for Pearland resident Robert Vasquez, tests revealed cancer at the junction of his esophagus and stomach. His oncologist suggested chemotherapy to shrink the growth, surgery to remove it and more chemotherapy to kill any remaining tumor cells.

Before Robert could begin treatment, his oncologist required him to gain the approval of the proposed care plan from a thoracic surgeon. So, Robert visited Farzaneh Banki, M.D., director of the Esophageal Disease Center at Memorial Hermann Southeast Hospital and professor of surgery at the McGovern Medical School, part of UTHealth in Houston.

“When I first met Dr. Banki, she agreed with the plan of care and was very direct in explaining the terminology and surgery details,” said Robert. “She was very confident about what she would do and reassured me that everything was going to be fine.”

Complex Surgery is Common

After two months of chemotherapy, it was time for surgery. A lifelong machinist, Robert remembers being nervous because the surgery to treat his esophageal gastric junction cancer was described as complex.

“Dr. Banki had told me she would cut out about two-thirds of my esophagus and part of my stomach, then make a tube from the stomach and connect it to the remaining esophagus in my neck,” explained Robert. “I remember thinking, ‘How in the world are you going to do this?’”

Following the nearly 7-hour surgery, Robert spent eight nights at Memorial Hermann Southeast in a dedicated area designed for patients recovering from esophageal surgery. Here the staff receive special training to care for patients with esophageal disease.

“The whole hospital experience was great,” he said. “Everybody took real good care of me and Dr. Banki visited me once or twice a day. She actually visited me on Easter Sunday.”

With his now-smaller stomach high in his chest, Robert quickly learned to eat smaller quantities of food more frequently and to completely chew his food.

“There’s a price to pay, but I knew that going in and I’m alive,” said Robert. “Dr. Banki is an excellent doctor and she has assembled a great team. She really made me feel good.”