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Physician shares his journey

Dr. Subhash Sahai talks about his cancer diagnosis and his commitment to his patients

Dr. Subhash Sahai

A Webster City physician is going through something that some of his patients have experienced. He’s battling cancer.

“So, this is my journey,” said Dr. Subhash Sahai, revealing that he has recently been diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“I think it’s been four or five weeks since I was diagnosed,” he said.

Sahai, a longtime Webster City family practice physician at the Van Diest Family Health Clinic, sat down with the Daily Freeman-Journal this week to talk about his diagnosis and to help educate others about the disease.

“I want people to know it’s not a death sentence,” he said, adding that the disease is highly treatable if diagnosed early.

He’s not alone in his diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, about 27,500 cases are expected to be diagnosed this year in the United States. About 17,650 cases of esophageal cancer are diagnosed each year. That translates into about half a million cases for each worldwide each year, Sahai said.

Sahai said the first indication that anything was wrong was a gastric pain that he had for about a week.

“It just wouldn’t go away,” he said. He took Tylenol and Prilosec to relieve the pain, but they didn’t help.

“I said to myself, ‘what’s going on here?’ I had no other symptoms – no reflux. I never have any gastric problems.”

He scheduled an ultrasound to see what the test might reveal. The test came back negative.

But he followed up with VDMC surgeon, Dr. Gayette Grimm for a stomach exam. A biopsy confirmed that cancer was found at the juncture of the esophagus and the stomach.

He went home that night and told his wife with the help of a couple of friends.

“I didn’t want to tell her alone,” he said. Then he called his children.

“The kids immediately took control of the situation,” he said, chuckling, “and everybody knows that nobody can take control of me.”

They arranged for him to see doctors at the University of Iowa and Mayo Clinic. Both doctors told him that they would not do minimally invasive surgeries – that open procedures were the protocol at those facilities.

Minimally invasive procedures involve laparoscopic surgery which requires smaller incisions and less recovery time.

Sahai will have his surgery in Pittsburgh. His son contacted a surgeon friend who will do the minimally invasive surgery.

He’s undergoing chemotherapy now. After four cycles of chemo every two weeks, he’ll have a month off of the treatment to allow him to build his strength back up and gain some weight. Then he’ll have the surgery.

The surgery will involve removing part of his stomach and reattaching it to his esophagus – similar to what is done in gastric bypass surgery.

Sahai said some of the symptoms of esophageal cancer include difficulty swallowing and food getting stuck.

The patient may think they haven’t chewed their food well enough, but they actually maybe feeling a blockage. Continuous acid reflux may also be a sign that something may be wrong.

“That’s why the medicines for that condition say see a doctor if the condition continues longer than a week,” he said.

The stomach cancers may not have symptoms that are as pronounced, he said, except for gastric ulcers.

“And these factors do not always translate to cancer,” Sahai said.

The doctor said he’s feeling great. The chemo causes a little nausea and he said he’s lost a few pounds. He should be done with his surgery and the subsequent treatment by April.

During his treatment, Sahai said he will still be working at the Van Diest Family Health Clinic, but he does have reduced clinic hours for now, which is temporary, and will vary depending on his treatment schedule. But Sahai said the many providers at the clinic are available to see patients.

“We have the physician assistants and nurse practitioners who will certainly help the patients,” he said. “And we have Dr. Nikki Ehn and Dr. Grimm. We have a very talented group of providers. We’re blessed with that.”

“I may not be full-time, but I’ll be there every day,” he said. “I plan to be there.”

“My commitment to my patients continues and it always will,” he said.

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