Esophageal Disease Center Team Helps Patient Overcome Cancer

Elizabeth Conley, 63, an Eastgate resident, believes that God guides our journey every step of the way, through life’s highs and lows. Part of Conley’s journey, unfortunately, involved esophageal cancer.

In 2015, after experiencing difficulties breathing and swallowing, a Mercy Health physician found a mass at the back of Conley’s throat and performed a biopsy, then sending the sample to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

"They told me it was Stage IV cancer and then called (the University of Cincinnati),” she says.

At UC, a team of experts within the Esophageal Disease Center, part of the UC Cancer Institute, took over from there—with the supervision of God, says Conley who had surgery Oct. 26, 2015.

Conley underwent a transhiatal esophagectomy, a typical surgery for cancer of the esophagus. The surgery is done through the abdomen and the neck and removes a portion of the stomach and esophagus. The stomach is then reshaped and is connected to the remaining esophagus. 

"Esophageal resection is a complex surgery, but at the UC Cancer Institute, we have an outstanding team with a lot of experience,” says Sandra Starnes, MD, associate professor and director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery at the UC College of Medicine and a UC Health thoracic surgeon. She along with Jeffrey Sussman, MD, professor and surgical oncologist, performed the procedure.  

Now, Conley is doing well and has the energy to spend time with her two daughters and six grandchildren. She sees Olugbenga Olowokure, MD, associate professor in the Division of Hematology Oncology at the UC College of Medicine and an oncologist with UC Health and the UC Cancer Institute, or "Dr. Benga,” for chemotherapy.  

"He always puts his fists up and bumps them with mine,” she says, chuckling. "It’s his way of telling me to keep fighting.”

She’s also begun radiation treatment with Jordan Kharofa, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology for the UC College of Medicine, and Chief Resident Christopher Miller, MD, just to make sure the cancer is completely gone. 

"They’re all such wonderful, caring people, and the nurses and staff at the hospital are fantastic as well—they are all my friends,” Conley says. "I thank God for His blessings and for leading me to my team at UC. Before my surgery, I said a prayer with my team to ask God to guide their hands. I’m here today because of my Lord, my husband and family, including my church family, and the wonderful people at UC who helped get me through it.”