The Right Treatment at the Right Time | MyHealthy Decisions

In this Cancer Care issue of MyHealthy Decisions, learn more about how cutting-edge technology, regularly scheduled cancer screenings, clinical trials, and a thorough team can improve cancer treatment outcomes.

A Routine Checkup May Have Saved Doug's Life

Four years ago, during an annual appointment at Sharon Springs Health Center, Doug Plummer’s primary care practitioner, Stephen Strasser, MD, suggested an endoscopy to explore his complaint about acid reflux.

Plummer, 60, of Sharon Springs, who is active in his community as mayor and owner of the renowned American Hotel, agreed to the follow-up test without much thought. “I appreciated my provider being thorough,” he says. “But I wasn’t too concerned.”

On a total hunch, Dr. Strasser ordered an endoscopy. The results revealed early-stage esophageal cancer. “I wondered how in the world this happened,” says Plummer. “I was a bit overweight and had an elevated blood pressure, but so what?”

A Surprising Diagnosis

The cancer was in stage two; it was beginning to spread to areas nearby. At Bassett Cancer Institute, Plummer’s newly formed team — Timothy Korytko, MD, radiation oncologist; Eric Bravin, MD, oncologist; and Victoria Stabinski, AGPCNP recognized the need for Plummer to undergo an esophagectomy, a specialized surgical procedure where part of the esophagus (the tube that runs between the mouth and stomach) is removed and reconstructed using a portion of the stomach.

The procedure went well, though recovery was difficult. “I lost 65 pounds,” says Plummer. “I looked like a different person.”

The Care He Needed

Plummer is a patient who requires an exceptional bedside manner. “Compassion, to me, is one of the most important parts of a patient’s care journey,” he says. “When I arrived at Bassett, I knew from day one that I was surrounded by amazing people and advanced care.”

Bassett Medical Center offers stereotactic radiation, a non-invasive treatment approach that precisely targets early-stage tumors of the lungs, brain, spine and other parts of the body. The radiation doses — which are much higher than traditional radiation therapy — blast tumors in just a few treatments, with the equivalent of a few weeks’ worth of emissions. 

“Mr. Plummer’s treatment regimen included stereotactic radiation,” says Dr. Korytko. “Using a very high dose of radiation, it focuses on just the tumor, and treatment is completed in one to five sessions instead of weeks. It is very focused and safe and avoids exposing surrounding healthy tissues to radiation. In Mr. Plummer’s case, he received three high-dose treatments, did very well, and progressed on to obtain his other treatments.”

“I found that treatments were very manageable,” Plummer says.

And following courses of chemotherapy and radiation, there was no evidence of cancer. “I went on with my life, ever thankful,” he says.

Starting Again

Then, this past spring, Plummer discovered what appeared to be a basal cell carcinoma on his head. “I have great hair,” he jokes. “I was running my fingers through it one day and thought it must be developing because of my pale skin and years spent in the sun.”

Part of the apparent basal cell was removed for biopsy. To Plummer’s surprise, the results showed not skin cancer, but the same tumor that had been growing in his esophagus.

Doug Plummer
Doug Plummer in front of his business, the American Hotel

This time, the COVID-19 pandemic had just begun, and he wondered what treatment would be like in the wake of the crisis. “I arrived back at Bassett, and everyone was calm and professional,” he says. “It was business as usual. I was immediately reassured.”

Plummer reconvened with his care team and began radiation. “We accomplished another program of stereotactic radiation in just three sessions,” says Dr. Korytko.

Chemotherapy courses followed stereotactic radiation, and Plummer continues to undergo regular infusions. “It sounds crazy, but I look forward to my treatments,” he says. “The people at Bassett Cancer Institute welcome you into their family, and it’s stunning. I can’t imagine taking this journey anywhere else.”