Mom knows best.
The Muth family knows this statement all too well. Their mother, Ann Jennings, asked for only one thing to ring in her 90th birthday, for her four children to have endoscopies at MD Anderson.
Yes, you read that right.
So, when the four children traveled to Houston from all over the country for their mother's birthday party, they gave her the gift she wanted.
"If it wasn't for Dr. Manoop Bhutani making it easy, we might have never done it," says daughter, Karen Jones, the second oldest, of the four Muth children. "Dr. Bhutani said he could scope us all in the morning and we could leave on a plane that afternoon."
Why the unusual birthday request?
Karen Jones has a history of esophageal cancer, and pancreatic cancer runs in the family.
Karen's father died at age 70, six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It was then they learned many other close relatives had also passed away from the disease.
The news came as a huge shock to the family. "My whole life I never noted cancer in my medical history and I worked at a medical school," Karen says. "Losing my father to cancer at a relatively young age made me more conscious about my health."
An ulcer reveals Barrett's esophagus
In 2003, Karen went to get screened for weight loss surgery. An endoscopy found an ulcer that was burning her stomach and esophagus.
Karen was diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, a condition where cells in the esophagus are damaged, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer. "I didn't have any symptoms," says Karen. "An upset stomach many mornings, but nothing a little food couldn't cure. I certainly learned my lesson the hard way. The biggest mistake you can make is to not listen to your body. Don't ignore pain and changes."
After two differing opinions on her Barrett's -- one suggesting the tumor was cancerous -- she decided to come to MD Anderson.
Fortunately, Karen had previously worked with John Stroehlein, M.D., and he knew her medical history, so she went under his care. "He watched me diligently, scoping me often to make sure nothing changed," Karen says.
Esophageal cancer diagnoses
Then in December 2005, after two years of watchful waiting, Karen was found to have "high grade dysplasia" which is often associated with esophageal cancer that's linked with Barrett's esophagus.
Once the high grade dysplasia was identified, Karen was referred by Dr. Stroehlein to one his colleagues for endomucosal resections (EMR's) and subsequently to Manoop Bhutani, M.D., who has provided Karen with screening for esophageal and pancreatic cancer.
"We were lucky because, at the time MD Anderson was one of only of the few hospitals in the nation doing this new procedure, EMR." After Karen's esophageal cancer was diagnosed, her three siblings were tested and all were diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, which appears to have a genetic link.
Because of their high risk for esophageal cancer, Karen's brother Michael had Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA), a procedure that kills abnormal cells with heat, preventing cancer "It was exciting because he now has the possibility of never developing esophageal cancer," Karen says.
"We all are thrilled that no cancers were found. Now all of us have peace of mind."
Ann's children hope to enjoy long lives like their mother. And, by getting screened for esophageal cancer they're taking a step in the right direction.