James Ferraro

Esophageal Cancer Patient Stories

James Ferraro

Jim Ferraro has always been a 'glass half full' kind of guy. Retired from the defense industry, he is inspired by nature and the outdoors, the love of his close family and his faith in God.

Jim’s positive outlook was put to the test in 2010, when, at the age of 61, he had a choking incident at a Labor Day family barbecue. A piece of meat got stuck and wouldn’t move up or down his throat. Jim threw up what looked like bile, and his daughter, a nurse, was immediately alarmed. “Something just didn’t feel right,” he recalled. An endoscopy was scheduled for that same week with a specialist near Jim’s home in Scott Township. “When my doctor brought us the results, he had tears in his eyes,” recalled Jim.  “He said it was cancer, and there was a possibility that the pancreas was involved. “

While the news was devastating, Jim had no doubt he was going to pull out all the stops and fight. “Of course it was a shock, but I said let’s get the crying done now, and then go to battle,” said the Vietnam War veteran.

A niece with a friend in research at Fox Chase Cancer Center urged Jim to seek treatment there.  “She said 'Uncle Jim, they’re the best. That’s where you need to go',” he recalled. Despite the three-hour travel time in each direction, that’s exactly what he did, meeting first with medical oncologist, Steven Cohen, MD, and radiation oncologist Joshua Meyer, MD, who performed a battery of tests and scans. "I felt like I was in good hands and was confident in their ability to care for me," shared Jim.

“My feeling was, I’m not sick, I just have cancer, and we’re going to beat this thing.” 

At that point, Jim was facing a diagnosis of stage 4 esophageal cancer. He met with Walter Scott, MD, FACS, Chief, Division of Thoracic Surgery at Fox Chase, the surgical leader of his treatment team. “My feeling was, I’m not sick, I just have cancer, and we’re going to beat this thing,” said Jim.

The first line of defense for Jim was a six-week course of chemotherapy and radiation, administered at Fox Chase Monday through Friday.  His wife, Mary Ellen, stayed with him, at the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, which is conveniently situated on Fox Chase's campus. She was able to drive Jim home every weekend. “Hope Lodge was a Godsend, saving us time and money,” he said.   

Jim tolerated the radiation and chemotherapy surprisingly well. “My doctors were amazed. I was so fortunate to have Dr. Cohen, Dr. Goodyear (a fellow), Dr. Meyers, Dr. Rege (a fellow) and Dr. Scott on my team taking care of me,” he said.  “I was able to eat so I didn’t lose that much weight. The last two weeks or so, I just got very tired.”  He finished up in early December and was home for the holidays before his scheduled surgery in the New Year.

“I am cancer-free today. It’s a miracle.”

Jim started 2011 with a 10-hour operation, performed by Dr. Scott and his team, in which they removed any suspicious area of the esophagus. Then Dr. Scott used part of Jim's stomach to form a replacement swallowin tube, which left him with a smaller stomach after the surgery.  “I came out of the whole thing pretty good,” he said. “I can’t eat a big meal, so I’ve lost some weight, but I’m putting it back on. The best news was that they took 80 samples of everything, including my lungs, and there wasn’t even enough tumor left to send for a biopsy,” he said.  “I am cancer-free today. It’s a miracle.”

"Some hospitals treat you like you’re a number. At Fox Chase, we felt like family.”

More than a year after his surgery, Jim’s energy is good, he’s back to hunting, fishing and golfing. “I’m doing everything in moderation,” he said. “I spend time with my grandchildren. It's fantastic. A lot of hospitals don’t even take cases like mine. But God bless Dr. Scott and his team and God bless Fox Chase. Some hospitals treat you like you’re a number. At Fox Chase, we felt like family.”