Esophageal Cancer Survivor Celebrates Living Cancer-Free

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South Knoxville Man Shares Message of Hope After Cancer Therapies and Surgery

Nick Parker has always been healthy and in good shape. “I don’t get sick, other than Parkinson’s and cancer,” he jokes. The South Knoxville native underwent treatment and surgery for esophageal cancer at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center and Thompson Cancer Survival Center in 2023. The former Marine was diagnosed with cancer just after finishing surgery to stabilize tremors that he experienced as part of having Parkinson’s Disease.

The discovery of a cancerous tumor in his esophagus was staggering, but Parker’s hope and faith never wavered. “When I was diagnosed with cancer, God laid it on my heart that He had a plan. I believe He has given me miracle after miracle,” he says.

Nick Parker of South Knoxville kept his spirits high and his faith strong during his cancer journey.

Early Symptoms and Diagnosis

“I thought I was having heartburn, so I had some routine GI tests done,” Parker says. That’s when his doctors found the mass on his esophagus. Before undergoing surgery to remove the tumor, he was prescribed several rounds of chemotherapy and proton therapy with Thompson Cancer Survival Center.

Early symptoms of esophageal cancer may include trouble swallowing, heartburn, indigestion, pressure or burning in the chest, or the feeling that food is stuck in the throat.

More severe symptoms may mean a tumor has grown. These symptoms can include coughing, vomiting, trouble swallowing liquids, and black stool. Nick didn’t have any severe symptoms other than heartburn, and he had no known risk factors for developing cancer.

“We have a multidisciplinary team approach to these cases,” explains David Chism, MD, medical oncologist with Thompson Cancer Survival Center. “When I first met Nick, I knew he was a fighter. His positive attitude is a reflection of his strong faith. It made me joyful to be a part of his team.”

Esophageal Cancer: Surgery and Treatment

Nick Parker rings Thompson Proton THerapy center bell
Nick Parker rings the victory bell at Thompson Proton Center, signifying his final proton therapy session.

Parker’s care team included a “tumor board” of medical specialists who worked together to develop his treatment plan. They recommended chemotherapy and radiation therapy to ensure all the cancer cells were eliminated. Parker underwent eight rounds of chemo at Thompson Cancer Survival Center and 30 sessions of proton therapy at Thompson Proton Center in West Knoxville. Thompson Proton Center is the only center of its kind in the region. His care was overseen by Ryan Grover, MD, radiation oncologist and medical director of the Center.

After finishing proton therapy, he rang the traditional “bell of victory,” but his journey was not over.

In April 2023, Parker underwent a complex surgical procedure called an esophagectomy. It took nine hours and involved removing part of the esophagus. During this procedure, the pieces of the esophagus or stomach that are left are then reconnected, allowing the new pathway to carry food and liquid from the throat to the stomach.

At Fort Sanders Regional, his surgeons were Michael Antiporda, MD, surgery specialist, and David Graham, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon. Parker says, “We are just so lucky to have these physicians here locally, and I know my God worked through their expert hands.”

Celebrating Recovery Milestones

Trina smiles with her husbands surgeons
An “elevator photo moment” with Trina Parker and her husband’s surgeons, Michael Antiporda, MD, and David Graham, MD.

April 2024 marks one year since his surgery. Parker has kept his spirits high during his recovery and plans to return to good health. His wife, Trina, and his family and friends have been a source of unwavering support. Parker and his wife have two daughters, Anna and Grace. The youngest will graduate from high school in May 2024, another milestone for her proud father.

He has retired from his 20+-year career in insurance and has focused on his physical, mental and spiritual health. In August 2023, he received that he was cancer-free from his friend, Susan Rutherford, RN, nurse navigator with Thompson Cancer Survival Center.

An oncology nurse navigator is specially trained in cancer care. From diagnosis through treatment, the navigator supports patients through education, help with medical team communication, assistance with managing treatment side effects, an offering encouragement along the way. Parker expressed his gratitude for Rutherford, who walked alongside him through his treatment journey.

“As I began to gain strength, my wife and I began to travel, hike, and get back to life, including celebrating 30 years of marriage with a trip to New England,” Parker says. “I am so grateful for everyone in my life for their support during this time.”

Going the Extra Mile

Nick Parker and family
Nick’s wife and daughters celebrate life and his recovery milestones together.

In Fall 2023, Parker’s health had continued to improve and he trained for a 5K. He completed his 5K run in the annual Race Against Cancer benefitting Thompson Cancer Survival Center and raised funds for his “Team Hope.” He continues his fitness journey and recently completed another 5K during the 2024 Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon weekend.

He intends to spread a message of hope and encouragement to other cancer survivors with his advocacy and positive attitude.

Parker is dedicated to remaining focused on the blessings in his life, despite the challenges he has experienced. He says, “Don’t allow the worries and distractions of tomorrow crowd the joy of today.”

More information

Read more about our surgical services at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center.

Learn more about Thompson Cancer Survival Center.

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Headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee, Covenant Health is a community-owned, healthcare enterprise committed to providing the right care at the right time and place. Covenant Health is the area’s largest employer and has more than 11,000 compassionate caregivers, expert clinicians, and dedicated employees and volunteers.

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