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Survivor Interview – Genny W.

Genny is an esophageal cancer survivor. She discusses digestion issues, hospice, insurance, and finances.

A senior woman with short blonde hair and glasses

I became a survivor when I became diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus on October 17, 2004.

I knew that I was having a lot of problems with my stomach. I could eat a good lunch, but I’d just end up throwing it up. It would hurt. Food would get stuck down there and then I’d throw it up. It was getting worse and worse all the time. Finally, I started losing weight real fast, and that’s when the doctor had an upper GI series done, but not of the esophagus. I kept saying, “No. That’s not where I hurt.” One Sunday, my boss and I went to the hospital, and they found it right away.

They put a stent in there to open it up. I did fairly good with that. They didn’t put the tube in then. We felt we could get away with it, but I think I was a little foolish – something got caught in that stent, and I ended up back in the hospital. That’s when they went in and did the surgery to the esophagus and put the tube in. By that time, it had gotten pretty bad. When we went to get the tube in, there had been some pills in there that had not been dissolved for about four weeks. They were still in there whole, in the mass.

The tumor is there. They’re just trying to dissolve it. It did metastasize. It has gone to other parts of my body. I have one more chemo this month, and then we’re going to do blood work. We’ll see how I do. Then they’re going to do the GI series to see if we slowed it down. I feel okay otherwise.

Now, I drink a formula that has all the proteins and everything in it, but I try really hard to take different foods. I put it through a food processor. It doesn’t taste the same, but you’ve got to remember when you’re on chemo, food doesn’t taste the same anyway. You know how it smells, and you know how it’s supposed to taste. But it doesn’t. But that’s okay. You can pretend.

When I eat, I have to be careful because it will hurt. There are some vegetables I can’t eat. Of course, corn is one of them. I really do miss my meat. You can’t really have a lot of meat, but I’m trying to do pancakes and an egg. It’s little things like that, but you’d be surprised how you welcome that. I don’t eat too much through the mouth anymore because if something barely gets stuck, it hurts for a while. But if I get hungry, I give it a try.

I also tube feed. You fill a big syringe up and put it through the tube. It’s very simple. If you don’t like the way something tastes, like if you don’t like medicine you’ve got to take, you can put it in the tube, and you don’t have to taste it. There is some good to all this.

My hope is to eat normal foods again. Before I die, give me a day where I can just pig out. That sounds really corny, but when you can’t get what you’ve had all your life, boy you’re surprised at how much you miss it. Even though you do have cancer of the esophagus, you still have your taste buds. Formula doesn’t make you feel full. It doesn’t satisfy you like a good meal. You know that you had your nourishment and that’s it. One thing that I do, and I’ve promised I would never do this in a restaurant in front of anyone, is you can take the food, chew it, and spit it out. Believe it or not, that gets rid of that craving.

I have a nurse from hospice that comes in once a week. They’re wonderful people. They give you services, like they get me to and from my appointments. They can take you to the grocery store if you need to. The nurse comes in once a week to check my vital signs and make sure that all the medications are there that I absolutely need. I have to dress the feeding tube every once in a while. The nurse makes sure that I have all the supplies. If I need one of them at night, all I do is make a phone call, and there’ll be somebody there. There’s always a nurse on duty.

They taught me how to do pain management, and that’s really, really important. It’s to determine when you should take your medication or not. I was very sick because I was always afraid of it, especially anything that was a drug. But I found out that they don’t want you to hurt because once the pain starts, it’s really hard to control it. You manage the pain. You don’t let the pain manage you. If it starts hurting, you take the medicine to give yourself a little relief. Because once it gets bad, it’s awfully hard to get it to stop hurting. I’m on breakthrough pills. I have the little pills that melt under the tongue. Everything has to be either liquefied or melt under the tongue. I can’t swallow pills.

Hospice is really good because they really help you a lot. The lawyers there have helped me a lot financially. How am I gonna live? How am I gonna make it, because I know I can’t work anymore? I’ve worked for most of my life. How am I gonna do this? They started the ball rolling, and we just took it from there.

Going into this, I had no health insurance. My health insurance would’ve skyrocketed because I have a heart murmur, and I had had pneumonia at that time. I also had really high blood pressure. So my insurance was like four hundred and some odd dollars a month. I couldn’t afford it. Then I thought, “How in the world am I going to pay my rent?” I do not want to be dependent on anybody because I can still get around. It’s not like I’m helpless. I’m getting SSI with disability in another month or two. I’m on Medicaid for right now. It worked out. But any doubt, that was my biggest fear. I was not afraid of dying at all. I was afraid of what was gonna happen to me while I was alive. I didn’t want to become a burden. I’ve been independent all my life.

I don’t let myself stress out. I’ll just roll with the punches because if I get stressed out, it hurts my stomach. I can get a little stressed, so I say, “Okay. That’s fine.” I’ve learned to do that. I found out, too, that if you can laugh at yourself, it’s okay. I make fun of myself. Sometimes I do laugh at myself pretty bad because I stumble. I get clumsy. It’s awful, and then you feel like you’re weaving but you’re not. Then you say things that come out wrong, or you’re in the middle of a sentence and you can’t remember the word you’re gonna use. That happened to me. It gets worse. I just make jokes.

Livestrong means be strong about things. Don’t give up. I realized that. If you find something that you can have strength in, go for it. I can’t stand to sit around and mope about my disabilities because I’ve gone into those clinics, and I’ve seen a lot of people a lot worse off than I am. I’m not afraid. If you live a little strong, you feel everything’s gonna be okay. If you have a positive attitude, I think things will turn out that way too.

My name is Genny Walters, and I am a four-month cancer survivor.

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