'I just wanted to know what could be done about it' 

After discovering he had cancer of the oesophagus in 1998, keen marathon runner Clive Alexander had an oesophagogastrectomy. Six months after his operation he was able to go running again. 

"I was 63 when I first noticed symptoms. We had friends round for dinner and I swallowed a lump of bread and choked. After that, whenever I ate bread or meat I noticed it was really hard to get down. My GP gave me a large bottle of Gaviscon medicine for indigestion and wrote a referral for me to see a specialist.

"I saw the consultant in September 1998. He gave me an endoscopy and, when the results came back, told me I had oesophageal cancer. You don't want to think the worst in these kinds of situations, but invariably you do. When I heard, I just wanted to know what could be done about it. 

"I had to have two more endoscopies, and I also had an ultrasound on my liver and a CT scan. The cancer had spread to my stomach but hadn't gone further, so, in a way, I was lucky. I was referred for surgery and while I waited I carried on living as normal a life as possible. I continued working (I was a maintenance engineer, which is a very physical job involving lots of lifting) right up to my operation, and six weeks before the op I ran a half marathon.

"In December, I had an oesophagogastrectomy, an operation where the bottom of the oesophagus and half of the stomach are removed. The operation took eight and a half hours and the recovery period was meant to be two to three weeks, but because I was quite fit before surgery I was allowed home after 13 days.

"While I was in hospital I was fed semi-solid food through a tube that went straight into the small bowel. The tube was left in when I went home – just in case – and I had to clean it each day, which wasn't that nice a job. 

"I do eat more normally now, but I still have to be careful. Because my stomach is half the size it used to be I can't eat large quantities. Also, the valve at the top of the stomach is no longer there, which means that if I eat too much I don't feel good. I feel very leaden and sleepy and get bad indigestion. I can go out for meals, but whereas I would once have had three courses with no problem, now I can only manage two. 

"You learn to cope. I eat small meals, more often. I eat when I'm hungry rather than having three meals a day, and I don't like to eat after 5.30pm or 6pm in the evening. If I go out for a meal I have to stay up until midnight so that my food has had a chance to digest. I also have to sleep at a 45 degree angle; otherwise, you can wake up in the night feeling as if you're choking.

"I went back to work four months after the operation (although I'm retired now) and I started running again six months after the operation. I was lucky because I was fit, but having something else to focus on also helped."

Page last reviewed: 04/07/2016

Next review due: 04/07/2019