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Moving Forward: Tommy Garcia

Conquest - Summer 2007


By Mary Jane Schier

Tommy Garcia

Tommy Garcia didn’t notice the festive decorations when he and his wife Mary walked into M. D. Anderson two days after Christmas in 1999. He was still dazed from hearing the family doctor say, “You have cancer.”

After definitive tests, Garcia learned the lump he had felt a few weeks earlier was inoperable esophageal cancer. He was losing weight and having trouble swallowing, so he would need a feeding tube for nourishment to build him up before undergoing aggressive chemotherapy.

“Not long after the feeding tube was inserted, I developed an infection and had to be hospitalized at M. D. Anderson for more than three weeks, during which the tumor started bleeding. The doctors and nurses worked 24 hours a day to stop the bleeding and to pull me through,” recalls Garcia, who received 17 units of blood.

Garcia also remembers “lots of chaplains” coming to pray for and with them, then adds, “Mary never left my side, so I call her my chief guardian angel.”

Slowly, Garcia recovered from the complications and was strong enough for chemotherapy, which continued for almost two years. The drugs steadily shrank the golf ball-sized tumor located midway between his throat and the top of his breastbone. After 14 months, the feeding tube was removed.

“That was a big day for Mary and me to celebrate,” he says.

Once chemotherapy was completed, Garcia returned frequently to see Jaffer A. Ajani, M.D., professor in M. D. Anderson’s Department of Gastrointestinal Medical Oncology.

During a recent checkup, Ajani walked in and smilingly told his patient, “You’re still cancer-free after five years, so I believe you’ll be fine.”

The Garcias, who have eight grandchildren, shared a hug and happy tears with Ajani before calling their four grown children to report the good news.

“We feel truly blessed,” comments Garcia, who retired in 1996 after 28 years as a boilermaker welder for Dow Chemical Company. That same year, his wife was successfully treated for early-stage breast cancer at Brazosport Medical Center in Lake Jackson, Texas.

As cancer survivors, both Tommy and Mary Garcia often talk with others about eating healthy and getting regular checkups.

“And I tell everyone diagnosed with cancer that M. D. Anderson is the best place to go,” Garcia stresses.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center