Being the executive director of the Greenwood Area Habitat for Humanity provides Chad Charles a way to help a lot of people in the Greenwood community. He has been around home building his entire life, making Habitat a perfect marriage of his skill with his hands and his passion to help others. But Charles has another passion borne out of his own experience – helping others walk through the diagnosis and treatment of esophageal cancer.
Charles was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in November 2010. Following 28 consecutive hours of radiation treatment and 180 consecutive hours of chemotherapy treatment he went to MUSC to have an esophagectomy. His entire esophagus was removed along with his stomach. His stomach was used to form a new esophagus and a new stomach was formed out of a piece of his small intestine. He spent 28 days at MUSC and then went through another eight weeks of chemotherapy. His cancer went into remission in September 2011.
Charles said 2011 was a difficult year for him.
“It’s hard to describe that year,” Charles said. “It felt lonely because you don’t know if anyone knows what you’re going through. I was very sick.”
Charles said his cancer was a result of chronic heartburn and acid reflux. According to the Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN), those two factors cause stomach acid to splash into the esophagus and cause cell mutations which eventually lead to cancer. The ECAN says that more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn every day.
The American Cancer Society estimated that during 2008, 16,470 new cases of esophageal cancer cases would be diagnosed in the U.S. and 14,280 deaths from esophageal cancer would occur, which is more deaths than those expected to be caused by melanoma. The survival rate for esophageal cancer is just 18 percent of those five years removed from diagnosis and is the fastest growing type of cancer in the U.S.
When Kenny Loggins, who owns Loggins Roofing, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, he turned to Charles, a lifelong friend, for support.
“I’ve known Chad since we were kids and knew he had been diagnosed with the same type of cancer,” Loggins said. “I started talking to him and my wife started talking to his wife.”
Loggins said that his cancer was detected early and he only had to have a portion of his esophagus removed. He underwent surgery at MUSC as well. He says that having someone to walk beside him was a great help in a difficult time.
“It gave me somebody to talk to,” Loggins said. “It gave someone to rely on. It made our friendship stronger. I know I can count on him for anything and I know he can count on me.”
Charles is now in the process of becoming an ambassador for the ECAN in South Carolina for esophageal cancer. There was no ambassador when Charles was diagnosed. Charles says he wants to continue helping others diagnosed with esophageal cancer and raise awareness for the deadly disease.
“April is esophageal awareness month,” Charles said. We need to raise awareness because this is the fastest growing type of cancer in the country. Having someone to talk to while you’re going through it helps so much because you have a lot of questions about what you’re going through. Is it normal or not normal? No one knows unless they have been there.”
For more information on esophageal cancer or the ECAN visit www.ECAN.org.