In early 2010, Marquita Spell knew something wasn’t right. She was beginning to have difficulty swallowing and getting food down was becoming increasingly painful.

“The discomfort was unlike anything I had ever experienced before,” Marquita explained. “I never had issues with swallowing, and all of the sudden, it was a struggle to get food passed the back of my throat. When I did, I would have to wait for long periods of time before it felt like it passed all the way through to my stomach.”

On top of that, Marquita’s voice began to change, and she was losing her appetite. So after a visit with her primary care physician in April of that year, she went to a gastroenterologist for testing. The results of an upper endoscopy indicated cancer.

“Hearing that word for the first time was paralyzing,” explained Marquita. “Cancer never entered my mind, and it was devastating to think about the possibility of dying. But as difficult as it was, I prepared myself to do whatever I needed to get things back on track.”

To shrink the aggressive tumor that had developed in her esophagus, Marquita began a five-week regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. Afterwards, her gastroenterologist referred her to Farzaneh Banki, MD, director of the Memorial Hermann Southeast Esophageal Disease Center and assistant professor of Cardiothoracic Vascular Surgery at The University of Texas Medical School at Houston.

Dr. Banki, who focuses on benign and malignant diseases of the foregut and lungs, recommended an esophagectomy. She would remove Marquita’s damaged esophagus and replace it with portions of her stomach.

“During my initial consultation with Dr. Banki, I felt a sense of hope for the first time since I had been diagnosed with cancer,” said Marquita. “She took her time to explain everything to me in great detail and was straightforward with me about my options. My other physicians did their best to help me understand what was going on, but Dr. Banki was different. She has this special way of really connecting with people that made me believe my life would go on after this cancer.”

In the operating room, Marquita’s surgery was performed without issue. But three days into her 10-day post-procedure hospital stay, Marquita’s heart began to beat rapidly – exceeding 180 beats per minute. An upper endoscopy was performed to ensure the new esophageal tract created during surgery wasn’t damaged, and the results came back normal.

“My body had just been through a lot in the last few days,” she explained. “It was a scary time, but Dr. Banki never left my side. She even spent the night with me in my room to make sure she wasn’t too far in case I took a turn for the worse. It’s that kind of care that sets her apart from the rest. I don’t know of any other doctor who would do that for their patients – she made me feel like I was the only person who mattered.”

By the following morning, Marquita’s heart rate returned to a normal range. She went on to make a full recovery from the procedure and is now enjoying life without cancer.

“I have routine screenings by an oncologist and Dr. Banki to make sure my cancer stays in remission. But all-in-all, I can’t complain. It’s been a little over a year since my surgery, and I’m back to living life again.”

Marquita added that her positive outcome would not have been possible without Dr. Banki. “She certainly knows her stuff when it comes to the esophagus. But it takes more than just medical knowledge to treat people, and Dr. Banki gets that. Her and her team have made me feel like family, and they will always have a special place in my heart. I’m lucky to have them in my life.”

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