When Cody first told me his diagnosis, I wouldn’t have ever believed him if he wasn’t crying. How could a healthy 25 year old man (that never smoked, never complained of acid reflux, and wasn’t an alcoholic) be diagnosed with Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer? The doctors gave us a very grim prognosis, told us our treatment options were limited, and were ready to throw in the towel from the start.
I think one of the first things everybody does is hop on Google and look at the survival rates and try to do some digging. I’ve always been a pretty good researcher so I put my emotions aside and went into research mode. Putting my emotions aside was very hard when I had seen the such horrible statistics. The estimates stated by the American Cancer Society for the United States in 2023 are:
- About 21,560 new Esophageal Cancer cases diagnosed (17,030 in men and 4,530 in women)
- About 16,120 deaths from Esophageal Cancer (12,920 in men and 3,200 in women)
- Esophageal Cancer makes up about 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States
- The 5 year survival rate of Distant Stage 4 Esophageal Cancer is 6% (Distant meaning that the cancer has spread to organs or lymph nodes away from the main tumor)
- All Stages of Esophageal Cancer (1-4) have about a 20% survival rate
- Fewer than 15% of cases are found in people younger than age 55
These statistics made me sick to see and so sad to think of all of the other people going through the same experience. I immediately recognized that our options were limited as this is such a rare cancer especially with somebody at his age.
I found several groups of patients, caregivers, family members going through our same nightmare (some young and many older). I started researching the best hospitals, the different treatment options etc. These groups helped us in so many ways, such as how to deal with the side effects of chemo or radiation, the new upcoming treatment options, the best things for him to eat, and the list can just go on. I was able
to find a hospital that could offer him several different options, with a doctor that specialized in Esophageal Cancer for many years.
We were able to get his information sent to M.D Anderson and get an appointment set up for him to go see them. The only catch is that it was in Texas, 1,300 miles away. Treatment options were still limited with him not living within the state of Texas, but we were able to find him a treatment that helped us keep the beast at bay, at least for the time being.
Having this time with him was such a blessing looking back on it. So many laughs were shared, so many memories made, he lived every day as if it were going to be his last. We traveled halfway across the world to French Polynesia staying in Tahiti, Mo’orea, and Bora Bora. He and his wife were able to find the property of their dreams, and transform the house into a home. They were able to get many fur babies Cain, Rosie, Rocco, and Copper. He fully restored an old school F100, and chased his career dreams. He would go to work after chemo/radiation if it was in the mornings, or head to chemo/radiation directly after work before going home to his family. He often said “there’s just not enough hours in the day” and if anybody meant that when they said it — it was him.
Our family is forever grateful for his workplace, National Enclosure Company (NEC). They were quite literally like a family to Cody. Checking on him throughout this entire process, and they showed up even outside of the workplace to show their support for him. They treated him like the normal Cody that he wanted to be, and refused to be a company that would just lay him off as soon as he told them the news.
We had to beg him to sit down and relax, if you knew Cody he was always doing something and if not he was planning the next big move. At many times he made this battle look easy — with many doubting that he was sick in the first place. He didn’t ask for sympathy or anybody to treat him differently. He just wanted to be the same ol’ Cody that everybody loved and remembered. Cody could keep up with his coworker’s, hangout with all of his friends like normal, and many times would run laps around his family members. The amount of energy that guy had still blows me away. He would find a reason to keep pushing even on the darkest most painful days.
Cody was truly a selfless person. If I asked him why he kept pushing or trying new treatments, etc., he would simply say “because I love you guys more.” He loved his family and friends more than he ever loved himself. He would go through any treatment, any surgery, or any Hail Mary to try to stay with his friends and family. Not because he was afraid to die, but because he didn’t want to leave us all behind left with broken hearts. He didn’t know how to say goodbye to us.
Several different treatment option failed us. Different hospital systems failed us. Options started becoming more and more limited until we were left without any options at the end. We prayed and left the choice in Gods hands, and he decided to take him home to heaven over 3 years later. The best guardian angel that any of us could’ve asked for on our side.
There have been several things I’ve learned throughout this battle. First, Esophageal Cancer is SO underfunded. There’s not nearly as many treatment options, clinical trials, studies etc. for Esophageal Cancer as there are for other (more common cancers). My brother traveled all the way to Texas from Michigan to get the best options for treatment.
There are so many unknowns when it comes to cancer in general, but when you get to Esophageal Cancer there’s a lot more question marks than you would imagine. This is something now affecting both old and young people. Acid reflux causes cancer which in return KILLS. I’ve personally had acid reflux as far back as I remember, and not a single doctor ever mentioned it causing cancer.
Another big thing that I have learned is to never give up hope and keep pushing forward when you have a choice of “Sink or Swim.” My brother had several doctors look him straight in the face, and tell him he was going to die. He was always a pretty darn good swimmer, so he set his eyes on the prize and chased it until his body eventually gave out on him. Doctors aren’t god, they don’t dictate when it’s the end. He made it 3+ years battling this horrible disease, starting from the beginning diagnosed as Stage 4. A true warrior he is Cody Scott Strickland.
“Take the trip, buy the car, make the move. It’s only Money, you will make more tomorrow”
– Cody Scott Strickland