Joe Stauble, 63, thought the heartburn, weight loss and trouble keeping food down were the results of his acid reflux. After a series of doctors’ appointments in January 2021, he found out that his symptoms were signs of something much more serious.
For the second time in his life, a physician told Stauble he had cancer.
‘Here I go again’
Stauble had successfully battled prostate cancer in 2004, and in 2021 he was up against stage 3 esophageal cancer, which affects the muscular tube that carries food and liquids from the mouth to the stomach.
“I thought, ‘OK, here I go again,’” Stauble remembered. “I wondered what I did to have this come upon me. But I also made up my mind that I would try my best to beat it.”
Stauble’s tumor was located where the esophagus connects to the stomach. It had caused the esophagus to narrow to the width of a pen (it’s normally about 1.5 inches wide), leaving Stauble unable to eat or drink normally. He was weak, dehydrated and weighed just 98 pounds, about half his usual 185.
Seeking a second opinion
The team of doctors worked for several days to rehydrate Stauble and help him get stronger through the use of a feeding tube. He stayed at Baptist Jacksonville for an additional week to undergo physical and nutritional therapy before being discharged.
Dr. da Vinci
Following his hospitalization, Stauble remained on high-protein nutrition as he started chemotherapy with medical oncologist Robert Zaiden, MD, and radiation therapy with Michael Olson, MD, head of the Division of Radiation Oncology.
After Stauble completed chemotherapy and radiation in April 2021, Dr. Deb performed a minimally invasive robot-assisted esophagectomy the following month.
This complex procedure uses the da Vinci® Surgical System to help the surgeon remove the cancer and reconstruct the esophagus with the patient’s own stomach muscle. This allows the patient to eat normally again rather than relying on a feeding tube. The benefits of this minimally invasive procedure include faster recovery, less pain and improved patient satisfaction.
“The entire procedure is done using a robotic platform, allowing for more precise removal and reconstruction of the esophagus,” Dr. Deb said. “As a result, the patient experiences less blood loss and tissue trauma, meaning they are in less pain and in most cases, able to leave the hospital more quickly.”
No “pain in the neck”
Dr. Deb and the multidisciplinary team followed Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocols to ensure Stauble had the best possible outcome and a speedy recovery from his surgical procedure. ERAS results in:
- Excellent pain management
- Good nutrition
- Early ambulation
- Quicker recovery
“Everything we do on the thoracic oncology team at Baptist MD Anderson is guided by evidence-based research and best surgical practices,” Dr. Deb said.
Strength and recovery
For the first month after surgery, a home health nurse came to help Stauble multiple days a week. Stauble also slowly transitioned from a feeding tube to soft food to four to eight small meals a day. An oncology dietician was there to advise him on how he could gain the proper nutrition through each phase of his shifting diet.
Stauble got exercise by taking walks up and down his street to build up his strength, and he received immunotherapy to target any remaining cancerous cells. Stauble is currently in remission and comes to Baptist MD Anderson for surveillance visits.
“When I pray, I thank God for Baptist MD Anderson and the people working there,” Stauble said. “I’m grateful to have a new lease on life.”
Are you interested in a faster recovery after surgery? Baptist Health and Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center use ERAS to help surgery patients spend less time in the hospital and get back to normal activities sooner. To learn more, visit www.baptistjax.com/ERAS.