Sometimes the person who delivers the news becomes part of the story. This happened last spring when Elizabeth Alex, anchor for NBC Actions News (Channel 41) in Kansas City, shared the story of her late husband’s battle with esophageal cancer.
“When Brian was diagnosed with stage IV esophageal cancer in 2003, we were blindsided,” says Alex. “We knew very little about this relentless and deadly disease.” Six months after his diagnosis, it claimed Brian’s life.
Brian decided he wanted to be in a news story that would help other people protect themselves and their loved ones. – Elizabeth Alex
Before he died, though, Brian decided he wanted to be in a news story that would help other people protect themselves and their loved ones from cancer of the esophagus. Incidence of this type of cancer is increasing in the United States.
So Alex and the Action News team filmed one of Brian’s chemotherapy treatments in the Cancer Center at The University of Kansas Health System.
During the May 19 and 20 newscasts, Alex interviewed Gary Doolittle, MD, who was Brian’s medical oncologist, and featured other members of his care team at the hospital. Dr. Doolittle explained that because it is difficult to detect, esophageal cancer often reaches an advanced stage before the patient is diagnosed. The best defense against the disease is early detection and screening.
Like many patients who develop cancer of the esophagus, Brian had chronic heartburn, which can lead to a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.
“Brian suffered terribly from heartburn, but we didn’t have enough information to know that he should have been regularly screened,” Alex says.
While the majority of people who have heartburn or acid reflux will not get esophageal cancer, she noted, testing is recommended for people who have long-term heartburn that requires constant medication over a period of years.
Joaquina Baranda, MD, also said that people who have “alarm symptoms” should be tested immediately. These include sudden weight loss, lack of appetite, nausea or vomiting.
In addition to raising awareness of the disease, Alex invited the health system’s cancer experts to the station to answer questions from viewers. Eight Cancer Center team members took more than 200 calls during a 2-hour period on May 20. The health system also collaborated with Action News to produce a brochure on the topic.