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Published on April 30, 2018

Wayne UNC Couple Encourages Awareness of Esophageal and Head/Neck Cancers

Teammate cancer survivors Jeff and Tammy Kincaid want you to be aware of the signs and symptoms of Esophageal Cancer and Head/Neck Cancer – two cancers that are not often part of routine medical screenings.

Tammy, a CRNA with Wayne UNC, was the picture of health when she decided to have an upper endoscopy due to untreated reflux. The endoscopy revealed Stage 3 Esophogeal Cancer. Less than a year after Tammy’s diagnosis, the unthinkable happened, when her husband Jeff was diagnosed with Stage 4 Base of Tongue Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

“We didn’t have the bad habits that lead to Head and Neck and Esophageal Cancer,” said Tammy, who has now been in remission for four years. “We were outside the parameters of what doctors would normally look for.” Jeff, a school nurse with Wayne UNC, is in his third year of remission.

Esophageal Cancer – Tammy’s Story

Persistent heartburn – more than twice per week – or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause stomach acid to splash into the esophagus, producing cellular changes that can ultimately result in cancer, according to the Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN). If you have a long history of severe heartburn or acid indigestion, ECAN suggests talking to your doctor.

“A simple upper endoscopy can determine if there are any issues,” said Tammy, who credits General Surgeon Dr. Gilbert Garcia with urging her to have one five years ago. “My upper endoscopy saved my life.”

It’s been a long road for Tammy, who underwent chemo, radiation and surgical intervention over nearly two years, to aggressively treat her cancer.

Head/Neck Cancer – Jeff’s Story

Tammy was a year into her cancer treatment when Jeff went to his doctor with swelling on the side of his throat. A biopsy revealed his Stage 4 squamus cell carcinoma at the base of his tongue.

Head and neck cancers account for approximately 3 percent of all cancers in the United States and are nearly twice as common among men as they are among women, according to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. The alliance suggests patients watch for lumps or sores that do not heal, a sore throat that doesn’t go away, difficulty in swallowing and a change or hoarseness in the voice.

At Stage 4, Jeff’s cancer had moved into his lymph nodes, requiring a course of both chemo and radiation. Last year he underwent a mandibulectomy, a surgical procedure to remove a portion of his jaw, as well as reconstructive surgery, because his radiation treatment affected blood flow in his jaw.

Wayne UNC Family

“Jeff and I were both in and out of the hospital following our diagnoses,” said Tammy. “He would go in with dehydration and, on one of his last visits, he was in the ICU for septic shock. We can’t say enough about how encouraging and steadfast our physicians and staff around us were.”

Not only are Jeff and Tammy grateful for the excellent care they received as patients; they also credit the Wayne UNC family with providing vital emotional and financial support throughout their treatment and recovery. Collective fundraising efforts from Wayne UNC and the surrounding community raised more than $10,000 for the Kincaids.

Meanwhile, Tammy said she and her husband were both encouraged and touched by the families who purchased t-shirts to support them and posted photos on Facebook of their families wearing the shirts. Tammy said the couple’s faith in God was the major focus during their darker days.

The Road Ahead

While the most challenging elements of their treatment and recoveries are now behind them, the Kincaids continue to adjust to life after cancer.

After surgical intervention to remove parts of her stomach and esophagus, Tammy struggles to digest food as she once did, now consuming five or six small meals per day instead of the typical two to three daily meals.

Jeff also struggles with eating, as a recent surgery affected the nerve that runs to his lower lip. He returns to a specialist in May to evaluate whether he can receive implants on the left side of his jaw.

Despite the challenges they’ve faced in the aftermath of their illnesses, the Kincaids refer to themselves as medical miracles and are grateful for the support and care they received.

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