Our Cancer Care Team Helped Darlene Get Back to Doing What She Loves
Darlene Custer developed difficulty swallowing in early 2014. The problem
worsened to the point that it was difficult for her to swallow medicines
or foods without choking. She was referred to a gastroenterology specialist
in Winchester who let her know he suspected cancer, something she was
unprepared to hear. A biopsy was taken, and she was referred to a cancer
surgeon. “I was totally shocked,” she recalls. “I just
couldn’t believe it.”
Darlene’s diagnosis was confirmed, and she was scheduled for further
testing which showed the tumor in her lower esophagus and surrounding
cancerous lymph nodes. When she came to her first appointment, she was
impressed that the oncologist, radiologist and cancer surgeon had already
discussed her case. She appreciated that staff took into consideration
that she lives over an hour and a half away from Winchester, so they scheduled
her testing on the same day to minimize travel back and forth.
“The people in (Medical) Oncology were wonderful,” Darlene
says. She lost her hair as a result of the chemotherapy. She’d been
thinking about whether to stop coloring her hair and says “God took
care of that” as her hair began to grow back. Her daughter gave
her a “My Oncologist Does My Hair” t-shirt, which she wore
to one of her appointments with oncologist Lee Resta, MD, and had her
photo taken with him.
After completing chemotherapy, the next step for Darlene was surgery. In
November 2014, surgical oncologist Patrick Wagner, MD, used a minimally
invasive technique through small incisions to remove part of her esophagus
and stomach. After a long recovery, at first needing breathing assistance
and a feeding tube for nutrition, Darlene was gradually able to resume
a more normal lifestyle.
When routine follow-up scans showed cancerous lymph nodes were present,
Dr. Wagner advised a second surgery to remove the nodes. Darlene was reluctant
at first, but agreed. She had the surgery in July 2015 and was in the
hospital for about one week recovering.
Two years later, Darlene is living well without evidence of cancer. She
continues to have regular scans and follow-up with the cancer team. “Getting
my energy and strength back is hard, but they’re coming back slowly
and surely,” she says.
She praises Dr. Wagner’s staff members and also expresses appreciation
for all the departments involved in her care, including lab, imaging and
therapy. She says staff “worked together wonderfully” to coordinate
services or schedule testing she needed.
Darlene spends lots of time with family, including her first great-granddaughter,
and is active in her church. She and her husband Bill, both retired, are
back to doing their favorite pastime, camping.
If she lived closer, Darlene says she’d visit the oncology suite
and talk with patients going through treatment, just to offer them hope
at a time when she knows it can be hard to think it will get better.
“I was blessed,” she says.