Brain Cancer

Dylan-Jay Vankeirsbilck: My first-ever operation

June 2, 2024 Word for Word Media 0Comment

In honour of International Cancer Survivors Day, Dylan-Jay Vankeirsbilck shares his experience of his first-ever operation, a full neck dissection, that eventually led to an oesophageal cancer diagnosis.

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Dylan-Jay Vankeirsbilck (34) lives in East London.

In March 2022, while at work Dylan-Jay noticed a little lump on the right side of his neck. Thinking it could just be an enlarged lymph node and because it wasn’t painful, he didn’t think too much of it though his girlfriend, Natasha, was concerned.

Four months later, Natasha noticed the lump was still there and immediately booked an appointment with their GP. “My GP referred me to a specialist. The specialist informed me that a lump in the neck needs immediate attention and booked an ultrasound of the neck, which revealed two more abnormal lumps, that weren’t visible with the eye. A biopsy was then done.”

The biopsy result was positive for metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, so a CT scan was ordered. However, it had no findings, so it still wasn’t clear where the primary tumour was.

Full neck dissection

It was decided that a full neck dissection was the next best move; this was Dylan-Jay’s first-ever operation in his life. Thirty-six lymph nodes were removed in the five-and-a-half-hour operation with Dylan-Jay staying six days in hospital due to excessive bleeding.

It was then decided that Dylan-Jay should go to a hospital in Gqeberha (formerly known as Port Elizabeth) for a PET-CT scan. This scan showed something unusual in his oesophagus and he was then sent for an endoscopy which found a small tumour in his mid-oesophagus. The primary tumour was found, and it was confirmed that Dylan-Jay had oesophageal cancer. He was referred to an oncologist to discuss treatment plans.

“The doctors explained that this was the first time they have seen oesophageal cancer in someone my age. Usually a patient in their fifties or sixties would have issues swallowing and by that time, it’s too late as the tumour is too large. So, it was really good that mine was discovered at an early stage,” Dylan says.

Treatment and side effects

Before Dylan-Jay could start any chemotherapy or radiation, four teeth had to be removed to prevent any infection. Fertility preservation was also discussed but Dylan-Jay made the decision, due to the fact that it’s extremely costly, to not have it and start treatment immediately. He underwent six chemotherapy cycles and 28 radiation sessions.

“Chemotherapy made me extremely nauseous, with a loss of appetite, especially for three days after each cycle. Radiation radically affected my energy levels which led to severe fatigue. I also experienced loss of taste, discolouring and irritation of the skin, facial and chest hair loss, and struggling to swallow at times,” Dylan-Jay explains.

Easy to discuss

Dylan-Jay admits he did have moments of fear. “But I didn’t really feel sick, or untoward at all. I felt normal, with a few side effects, which made it much easier to discuss my diagnosis with family and friends. The fact that I’m young and of good health helped my body react extremely well to the treatment. I can only imagine it might not be as easy for some who are feeling ill or are physically suffering.”

First-ever operation experience

When asked how he experienced his first-ever operation, he responds, “The friendly and professional doctors and hospital staff at all three facilities went out of their way to ensure I was comfortable and well looked after. A massive shout out to my amazing girlfriend, Natasha, for being my caregiver and personal assistant through it all; not sure how I would have done it without her. And of course, my amazing family, friends and colleagues who were my support structure.”

He goes on to say that he is grateful to his medical aid scheme for covering everything in full.

Message to all

“I must urge anyone who finds a lump anywhere on their body to have it assessed as soon as possible. The earlier it’s discovered, the better the chances of beating it. And treatment is well worth it! Trust in the science, thanks to the medical team, all the glory, admiration and honour goes to you.”

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Editor Laurelle Williams

MEET OUR EDITOR – Laurelle Williams

Laurelle is the Editor at Word for Word Media and graduated from AFDA with a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree in Live Performance. She have a love for storytelling and sharing emotions through the power of words. Her aim is to educate, encourage and most of all show there is always hope. Write me: [email protected]

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