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Published on January 15, 2014

University of Michigan, MidMichigan Health and a New Puppy Get Behind Curt Campbell as he is Treated for Esophageal Cancer

Curt Campbell with wife Carol and Aussie dog CeCeA year after esophageal cancer surgery and treatment, Curt Campbell, 73, of Auburn is glad that he had a team of MidMichigan Health and University of Michigan Health System physicians and staff who were behind him all the way. He’s also grateful that his wife, Carol, and their Aussie dog, CeCe, were on his team to keep him focused on life instead of the “what-ifs.”

After Curt began having trouble swallowing during a trip to Florida in March 2012, his primary care provider ordered an endoscopy with MidMichigan Gastroenterologist Christina Murphy, D.O. The Campbells and their physicians thought that the swallowing difficulties might be part of the aging process, so Curt and Carol were shocked to learn that the endoscopy showed esophageal cancer. “Our next question was ‘what do we do next?’” Carol said. Dr. Murphy referred Curt to Mark Orringer, M.D., a thoracic surgeon at University of Michigan Health System (UMHS) who specializes in esophageal resection and reconstruction.

Before the referral, a number of procedures and tests needed to be performed at MidMichigan. Fortunately, those tests revealed that Curt was otherwise very healthy. “That was the good news,” Carol said. “The hardest part was waiting for the test results.”

“I just wanted a plan of action and to get the show on the road,” Curt added.

Dr. Orringer recommended 28 rounds of radiation and five sessions of chemotherapy prior to surgery to resect and reconstruct Curt’s esophageous. “Dr. Orringer’s office and MidMichigan coordinated these so that Curt could have chemo and radiation in Midland under the care of Medical Oncologist Ahmed Abdel-Maksoud, M.D., and Radiation Oncologist Rajnikant Mehta, M.D.,” Carol explained. 

“The Midland group worked so well with us, and because we were planning to spend our summer at Tawas RV Park, they arranged Curt's appointment so that we could leave for Tawas early on Friday and have his Monday appointment later in the day giving us long weekends to enjoy our time up north. Our Tawas RV family helped us take a break from our treatment routine.” 

“Staff at both the Radiation Oncology Center and the Infusion Center were exceptional,” Carol said. “Even though it is not what you want to be doing or where you want to be, they made visits very pleasant for both of us. There were always lots of smiles and hugs.” And hugs were plentiful for CeCe too who took walks around the Infusion Center building during Curt’s chemo treatments.

Although Curt was tired and didn’t have a huge appetite, he knew that it was important to keep his strength up by eating right and exercising. “He stayed active and we continued our normal lifestyle as much as possible,” Carol said. She also made protein shakes, and Curt received intravenous hydration to make him feel better.

It was their care team that made them most confident, they both said. “Dr. Maksoud was so comfortable for both of us,” Carol said.

“You aren’t just a patient, you’re a friend,” Curt added. “What impressed us so much was that Dr. Maksoud said, “I will do everything I can. I know that you will do everything you can, and we also have God on our team.’ He and the staff were truly great.”

Although the chemotherapy and radiation seemed to eliminate the tumor, Dr. Orringer recommended the esophageal resection and reconstruction to be sure that everything was eliminated. “He said, ‘with Curt in as good of health as he otherwise was, let's get rid of the affected area,’” Carol explained. “By this time we felt very positive that the surgery was the way to go and we were ready to move forward and get it done.”

CeCe came into Curt and Carol’s life on Labor Day that year. “Everyone thought we were crazy to get a puppy when facing surgery and cancer treatment, but we had lost an Aussie and knew that we needed another dog. She was ‘just what the doctor ordered.’ CeCe made sure we kept active, walking at least two miles daily, and made us laugh and love. So many times she took our mind off of the more unpleasant things that we were facing.”

On Nov. 2, 2012, Dr. Orringer performed the surgery. Again Curt and Carol had confidence in their physician. “Dr. Orringer knew what he was doing. He was confident in his ability to do the procedure,” Curt said. “He’s such a caring surgeon. I was there for a week and he came to see me every day, sometimes two or three times per day.”

Curt did everything that he was told to do. “After surgery, I walked six to eight times per day,” he said. But in spite of doing so, he developed a blood clot on the day before discharge. Again MidMichigan and the U-M providers worked well together, coordinating Coumadin and anticoagulation therapy near home in Midland. MidMichigan and UMHS worked well in other ways too. “We never had any glitch in information getting back to where it needed to be and any appointment not being made when we were told it would be.”

They both credit their care team and their friends and family for wonderful support. At the time Curt was diagnosed, Carol found a take on a Ralph Waldo Emerson quote that she put everywhere so they would see it. "The problem ahead of you is Not as strong as the POWER behind you."

Curt said that he encourages anyone with a cancer diagnosis to, “Keep the Faith, both in God and in your physicians.” Their words of advice, “Don't be afraid to ask all the questions you think of, and…Get a puppy.”

Today Curt is healthy and feels great. “I can eat anything that I want and I can chase the dog around.”