This selfie became my first social media post when I let friends know I have Stage 4 oesophageal cancer.

It was Sept 9, 2016, outside Texas Oncology-Baylor Charles A. Sammons Cancer Center (in the United States), which became my second home.

I’d been having difficulty swallowing on vacation that July and went to a gastrointestinal specialist after getting home. An endoscopy found the tumour.

Stage 4 simply means it has already spread. The secondary tumour is in my liver, and was the size of my fist. The primary tumour is blocking about half my oesophagus at the juncture with the stomach. Chemotherapy began about a month after the diagnosis, on Sept 22, 2016.

Along the way, I’ve documented on Instagram my days during doctor visits in Dallas and Houston, in waiting rooms, labs, infusion clinic and radiology. A few times, I asked others to make a snap.

Taking pictures is as much a part of me as it has been since high school. It’s not just my job. It’s an obsession and now so easy with a phone. It serves as an escape and a coping mechanism. Using my phone at arm’s length is very limiting but also challenging.

Sharing my images and a bit of my story online just seemed natural in today’s instant communication, narcissistic atmosphere. I’ll plead guilty to that.

Cancer

“22/9/16: Dr Scott Paulson. My oncologist.”

My initial prognosis was not good. I was told that if chemo didn’t work, then I’d be kicked into clinical trials. If no strong response followed, then I would have six months to live. The size of the liver tumour made surgery impossible.

I love images, especially the colour shot from the endoscopy that shows what’s invisible to the naked eye. It’s fascinating to see what’s inside one’s body. The primary tumour is ugly and beautiful at the same time.

Cancer

“12/12/16: Meeting Dr Ajani for a second opinion about the tumours in my oesophagus and liver. My brain is mush, so Nancy does the listening and questioning. Good to have The Rock in the room.”

Fast-forward to early December 2017: Being bombarded with four poisons has been really easy and I continue to work most days with only minor side effects.

Other than fatigue, I can’t complain. I sleep a lot. I put all my weight back on (plus some) within three months, a really good sign. Blood work shows improvement every visit. I feel rather guilty that chemo has been easy given what I’ve read and been told about how debilitating it can be for others.

Cancer

“3/11/16: Lab work with Carlos again. Door code wrist band. Dr P said labs were improved again.”

After nearly two years of chemotherapy, the big bad one in my liver has seen a “complete metabolic response”: It’s gone.

Today, the primary tumour is still active and I have some swallowing issues but overall I’m doing quite well. Surgery may now be an option to remove it, since the bad boy is gone. It’s a high-risk surgery because of its location, but we’ll see.

The chemo’s working; the battle continues. – Tribune News Service/The Dallas Morning News/Guy Reynolds


Guy Reynolds has been a photographer and photo editor at The Dallas Morning News since 1996. An exhibit of his film-based photography titled ‘Not Dead Yet, (And Neither Is Film)’ will be at the Tammy Cromer Gallery in Dallas, Texas, opening Oct 13. For details, go to tammycromergallery.com.