Greg Baermann, of Germantown, overcame colon cancer over a decade ago. But because he has Lynch syndrome, he stayed vigilant. Lynch syndrome is a hereditary disorder that increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer, as well as others such as uterine, prostate and liver cancer.

In 2016, Greg met with Abdel Alqwasmi, MD, medical oncologist and Medical College of Wisconsin faculty member, at the Cancer Center at Froedtert Menomonee Falls Hospital. The hospital is part of the Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network. Dr. Alqwasmi is one of a small group of physicians who, along with a cancer genetics team, provide care recommendations for patients and family members with a heightened risk of developing cancer. He recommended a colonoscopy to follow up on Greg's colon health, as well as a screening test of the esophagus, also called an upper endoscopy.

“The endoscopy showed three ulcers in my esophagus,” Greg said. “Two could be removed right away, but one, ‘The Beast’ as I call it, was bigger than anyone expected.”

When Greg was told he had a new cancer, he remained positive. Due to careful monitoring, the tumor was diagnosed at an early stage. “I was never down and out,” he said. “I knew I needed to take the next treatment step.”

Esophageal Cancer Treatment Specialist Team

Greg was soon connected with a team of esophageal cancer specialists who understand the nuances of the disease. Together, Greg’s physicians devised a personalized treatment plan that included radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery.

Monica Shukla, MD, radiation oncologist and MCW faculty member, designed a five-week course of daily radiation therapy.

“In Greg’s case, we used a technique called volumetric modulated arc therapy or VMAT,” she said. “It allowed us to better treat his tumor, while also avoiding his nearby organs — liver, bowel, heart, spinal cord, lungs — as much as possible.”

At the same time, Greg received weekly chemotherapy under the care of Dr. Alqwasmi. “We start with chemotherapy and radiation therapy together to reduce the size of the tumor. This allows for more complete removal with surgery and also decreases the likelihood of the cancer returning,” Dr. Alqwasmi said.

After Greg’s 11-hour surgery, he awoke to good news — his surgical team had removed all remaining tumor tissue. He was on his way to recovery.

Leaders in Innovation and Cancer Research

Active in research, the esophageal cancer team offers access to the latest evidence-based therapies, including the ability to enroll in national clinical trials. The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network has the largest cancer clinical trials treatment program in Wisconsin.

The esophageal cancer team also develops innovations “in-house.” For example, two of its surgeons pioneered a groundbreaking approach to esophageal cancer surgery.

“With a two-surgeon approach and minimally invasive tools, we cut the operative time in half, reduced blood loss by two-thirds and reduced the hospital stay,” said David Johnstone, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon and MCW faculty member. “It virtually eliminated the need for patients to go to the Intensive Care Unit after surgery.”

Research leadership also means that our esophageal cancer experts can offer emerging treatments such as immunotherapy.

“Immunotherapy drugs boost the immune system’s natural defenses against cancer cells,” Dr. Alqwasmi said. “There is strong evidence for using it to treat esophageal cancer. It has transformed the standard of care for this disease and many others.”

Cancer Free With a Positive Focus

Retired and cancer free, Greg loves spending time with Jeanie, his best friend and wife of 35 years. He also enjoys woodworking, fixing antique clocks and restoring a 1973 Pontiac Ventura.

Greg encourages anyone facing a cancer diagnosis to stay strong. “It’s tough, but my advice is to stay positive, stay focused and pray,” he said.

He also recommends his Cancer Network team. “I received excellent care,” he said. “Everybody was supportive and caring. They are a wonderful group of people.”