Liver Cancer: Conversation with a Liver Cancer Survivor

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Liver Cancer:  Conversation with a Liver Cancer Survivor




Guest:  Elroy Dantzler – Liver Cancer Survivor

Host:  Dr. Linda Austin – Psychiatry


Dr. Linda Austin:  I’m Dr. Linda Austin.  I’m talking today Mr. Elroy Dantzler who is now 78 years old.  Is that right?


Elroy Dantzler:  Will be in January.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Well, you look like a youngster.  Really, you look easily 10 years younger than that.  You have a very important story to tell.  I understand that years ago, you received a very scary diagnosis.  What was that diagnosis?


Elroy Dantzler:  I was diagnosed in September of 2002 with cancer of the liver, a tumor that was malignant and too large to perform surgery on.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, boy, that was almost five years ago now.


Elroy Dantzler:  Yes, ma’am.


Dr. Linda Austin:  How did you first suspect that you had something wrong?  What were your symptoms?


Elroy Dantzler:  I had brought my wife to Charleston on a medical trip and returned home that day.  I was sitting in my chair watching the television and I began to feel pain in my left shoulder, behind my left shoulder blade.  I had no idea, really, what it was, least of all, cancer.


Dr. Linda Austin:  How long after that did you see your doctor? 


Elroy Dantzler:  It persisted for a few days and then I contacted my family doctor. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  You saw your doctor.  What was the cause of that pain in your shoulder?


Elroy Dantzler:  I heard about some people having gallbladder problems and had different symptoms, different pain.  I think that was on my mind and I told him that I thought that might be it.  He sent me for a CAT scan, or whatever, at Orangeburg Hospital.


Dr. Linda Austin:  And, gave you a diagnosis of?


Elroy Dantzler:  He called me back almost before I got back to my office and said that the radiologist had read it and that he was ordering another test for the next morning.


Dr. Linda Austin:  How did you feel when he gave you that diagnosis?


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, I was somewhat stunned, in a way, that it was necessary for something else to be done.  It was certainly on my mind. 

Dr. Linda Austin:  It must have been a shocking diagnosis. 


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, the following day when he got the report, he called me immediately and told me he’d like to see me in Holly Hill, so I went down and we discussed it.  He said it was a mass on the liver.


Dr. Linda Austin:  How big?


Elroy Dantzler:  I really don’t remember because all I could think about was that it was liver cancer.  So, we asked what we should do and I suggested contacting a friend at the medical university that could possibly set us up with the proper doctor; he was a cardiologist, with the proper procedure.  We did contact his office.  He was out of town but returning that weekend.  By Monday, I had a call from Carlton Barnett’s office. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  I see.  So, you came here to the medical university?


Elroy Dantzler:  Yes, ma’am.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Now, I understand that your tumor was too big to operate. Is that right?


Elroy Dantzler:  Yes.  Dr. Barnett was the surgeon at that time and in discussing it, the first thing he told me was it was too large for surgery.  He did a biopsy and rechecked everything, all the tests that had been done.  He had an emergency call to go to Colorado, to his father’s estate.  He called me after he found out and said that a tentative test showed that it was malignant.  So, he called me again from Colorado, after he discussed it with the university, and confirmed that it was malignant and he wanted to see me as soon as he got back.


Dr. Linda Austin:  What treatment did they eventually recommend?


Elroy Dantzler:  He said that it was too large for surgery because you’d bleed to death on the operating table, so that was out.  So, I told him I had two experiences with friends that had gone through this long-term stuff and he said, well, you know, first, you can stop at any time.  Whatever you choose, you can stop anytime you want to.  Secondly, he mentioned that, in fact, it was a procedure done by a Dr. Uflacker in the radiology department.  He was an interventional radiologist.  He had done smaller tumors, but he had never done one that large.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, you began treatment, then, with Dr. Uflacker?


Elroy Dantzler:  I had an appointment with Dr. Uflacker and he confirmed that he had not done one that large but he was willing to undertake it.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Incredible.  Tell me what the treatments were like.  What happened when you went in for treatment?


Elroy Dantzler:  I think that the name is chemo-immobilization and radiofrequency ablation.  I would come in and they’d do the treatment and they did it in sections because of the size of it.  The treatment was to cut off the blood supply to the tumor so that it would die due to the lack of blood.  That was theory behind it, as he explained it to me.  I’m not medically inclined at all, but in the three different treatments, he did different sections. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  Were the treatments painful or uncomfortable?


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, I had plenty of pain medicine.  It was stuff that I could take at home.  I didn’t need morphine.  I didn’t need anything that high-powered.  I don’t handle pain well and I’ll tell anybody that.


Dr. Linda Austin:  I don’t know any men who do.


Elroy Dantzler:  I don’t like it and I’m not worried about being a drug addict.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Right.


Elroy Dantzler:  When I have pain, I’ve had this with kidney colic before, kidney stones, I want something that’s going to stop the pain.


Dr. Linda Austin:  So, they really treated your pain well?


Elroy Dantzler:  It was phenomenal, really.  I could never tell you what I think of Dr. Uflacker and his staff over there.  They just went out of their way to make me comfortable, like they were part of my family.  I knew about those young girls who were married, what their husbands did.  One of them is in the Air Force.  He flies these big planes over my house up there.  I always think about her when I hear a plane come over. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  I think that’s such an important part of this.  I think, so often, we think of big institutions, like Medical University, as scary places, but it’s human beings taking care of other human beings.


Elroy Dantzler:  Oh, you know, I never had the feeling of, God, next week; I’ve got to go back.  I took them as fast as he would give them to me.  He would give them to me each week, and I couldn’t do anything in between, except stay in bed.  I wasn’t in continuous pain.  I was in pain, but I just felt zapped, just nothing.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Yeah, you were pretty ill then.


Elroy Dantzler:  I was not sick to the point that I didn’t want to see anybody like a lot of these patients are taking this chemotherapy and stuff like that.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Mr. Dantzler, I try to put myself in your shoes.  I would imagine that must have been an incredibly scary time in your life.  How did you handle it?


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, it’s funny.  The first thing I thought about when he told me, like I said, was if I didn’t take the treatment, how long would I have?  Basically, it was 6-12 months.  They never actually wanted to talk about that.  They looked at it positively all the way.  I mean, they were 100 percent positive.  They never said, well, I guarantee you’ll be cured, or guaranteed anything, nothing like that, but they were positive.  They didn’t want to consider, well, you’ve only got this [much time].


I have two boys, and that’s the first thing I thought about.  They’re grown.  The youngest one is 43 and the other one is 48, so they really can take care of themselves.  My wife had some physical problems but she was getting better.


Dr. Linda Austin:  The support of the team, it sounds like, was so important.  Well, now, almost five years have elapsed.  You look as healthy as a horse.  I mean, you look fantastic, really.


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, as far as I know, I’m in good health.  For every report, I would go back every three months and then, finally, it became every six months.


Dr. Linda Austin:  For checkups?


Elroy Dantzler:  Yeah.  So, that year I went back and he found another tumor.  He told me, you know, he didn’t want to alarm me or anything, but there’s another tumor.  He thought we ought to go on and treat that, just like we had the others, which he did.  That was a year ago this past December, I think.  It was nothing like the size of the other tumors.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Small?


Elroy Dantzler:  Very small.  He talks in terms of centimeters and so forth.  He showed me on the x-ray how big it was as it shrank over time.  I went in February and I go back in August to see Dr. Uflacker.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Well, it’s a fabulous story.  In another podcast, I interview Dr. Uflacker about this procedure because, as you probably know, the liver is a place where not only cancer can start, as it did with you, a primary site, but it’s also a place where cancer often spreads to.  I know he uses this procedure for both situations and it has been very successful, and you’re here to tell the story. 


I’m sure that there will be someone listening to this who has just gotten that scary diagnosis that you heard back in 2002, or someone who loves somebody who’s been given that diagnosis.  If you could speak to that person, give them any words of comfort or encouragement, what would you say?


Elroy Dantzler:  Go see Dr. Uflacker.


Dr. Linda Austin:  Well, that’s great advice.


Elroy Dantzler:  If it’s treatable in his realm, of what we can do.  I understand that those treatments that I told you about, the chemo-immobilization and radiofrequency ablation, can’t be used, for instance, for prostate cancer or for lung cancer.  It’s got to be a certain organ, as I understand.  I don’t know about breast cancer, female-type cancer.


Dr. Linda Austin:  I asked him that question, actually, and I think they’re using it primarily for liver, but he said, also, that they have used, I believe, the radio ablation in some other organs as well.


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, I’m sure it’s progressed so much in this past, going on, five years. 


Dr. Linda Austin:  Mr. Dantzler, I thank you so much for spending some time with us today and sharing your story.  I hope it’s a real inspiration to other people who are going to be walking in those shoes at some point.  Thank you again.


Elroy Dantzler:  Well, I hope so too.  Thank you.


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