A letter from Sherry Skipper

3 November 2008

Dear Dr. Montgomery,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my inquiry regarding donations in the memory of Philippe (Phil) Ross. I know that you are responding to each donor with a thank you note; that is a wonderful gesture. I also want to express my gratitude to each of them for honoring Phil.

I know that with the relatively low numbers of cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed each year, it is considered an “orphan” disease and doesn’t get the attention that more widespread cancers do. Recently, I read that the number of cases of esophageal cancer diagnosed yearly is increasing, especially adenocarcinoma, the form of esophageal cancer that Phil had. Our hospice nurse, who has been in nursing for 30 plus years and in hospice for the last 18 years, told us that she is seeing an increase in the number of patients in the hospice system in Denver with esophageal cancer.

I hope that some of the research effort taking place in esophageal cancer is outreach and education to doctors. Phil woke me in the middle of the night in late 2003 with excruciating pain in his upper abdominal area and drove himself to the emergency room to be seen. Phil was not a person to visit the emergency room; for him to seek relief there meant it was serious. However, he was treated for an episode of acid reflux with the usual medications. There was no examination beyond an oral account of his symptoms and the monitoring of standard vital signs. I understand that triage nurses and emergency room doctors and nurses see many patients, some with gastric distress, but I can’t keep myself from thinking that if someone had taken the symptoms more seriously, he would be here now. He was a member of the population most susceptible for esophageal adenocarcinoma, a white male in his fifties. If I knew then what I do now, I would have insisted on further tests. He was diagnosed with cancer at the gastroesophageal junction in October 2005 while on a teaching and research sabbatical at a university in Aveiro, Portugal. At that time, he was in apparent excellent health; he worked out regularly at the University’s gym and ran about 30 miles per week. He consulted a doctor there when he started having difficulty swallowing. By then, the cancer was stage IV. When I read the prognosis on medical websites, my world was shattered. When Phil returned to the U.S. for follow-up and treatment, he gave me the option of not being involved in his care, knowing that it was going to be hard and that the likely outcome was a short survival time. I told him then and throughout his treatment that we were a team; I couldn’t imagine not being there to love and support him and act as his caretaker and health care advocate. Today is the four month anniversary of Phil’s death and I still can’t believe that it happened. He fought such a brave fight – a cliché – but it is true. He suffered through chemotherapy, radiation, radical surgery and visits to the emergency room with systemic infections, a suspected lung infection and bowel impactions. He lost the ability to do the things that he loved the most but never adopted a “poor me” attitude. Anything that we can do to keep other people and those who love them from going through this is an effort that deserves attention and support. I have enclosed a contribution today and will continue to contribute to your department when I am able – in recognition of ‘Team Phil’.

I hope for continued advances in detection and treatment from your department’s research.

With kind regards,
Sherry Skipper