Sharing cancer journey to help others

South Surrey man on long road to recovery after surgery to remove esophagus.

The Boerma family

For years, Jim Boerma suffered from indigestion and acid reflux.

The South Surrey resident treated the painful symptoms with over-the-counter medication, never thinking it could be anything serious.

That all changed late last fall, when Boerma, 51, was diagnosed with advanced esophageal cancer.

In March, he underwent an esophagectomy – a seven-hour-long procedure performed at Surrey Memorial Hospital that resulted in his esophagus being removed completely.

Boerma is now recovering at home with support of his wife, Veronica Moreno-Boerma, and their two young children, Sofia, 8, and Lucien, 4. The family is hoping that by sharing Boerma’s story – which they have detailed online at www.boermafamilyjourney.com – they can help to raise awareness about esophageal cancer.

“We’re very lucky,” Moreno-Boerma said, noting that the survival rate of esophageal cancer is quite low. “Most people aren’t diagnosed until it’s already too late, and this is a very lethal cancer.”

On the family’s website, Boerma recalls suffering from indigestion ever since he was a child. The acid reflux began in his 30s, and the painful symptoms slowly became more frequent and severe in recent years.

Two years ago, he went to his doctor complaining of his recurring bouts of acid reflux, and was prescribed some stronger medication to treat the symptoms. About a year later, Boerma started having trouble swallowing, and a few months later, he underwent an endoscopy. That examination revealed a large tumour on the midrange of his esophagus.

Prior to having his esophagus removed, Boerma underwent five weeks of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy treatment. The operation to remove his esophagus took place March 24, and although the post-surgery results have been positive, he has a long road ahead of him.

“The recovery is slow, but all in all, he’s doing very well,” Moreno-Boerma said, noting the doctors have warned it could take up to 12 months before he is able to resume a ‘normal’ lifestyle.

The ordeal has taken an emotional toll  – all of Moreno-Boerma’s family lives in her native country of Ecuador, and Jim doesn’t have many family members in the area.

It has also put a large financial strain on the family. Boerma, a project manager at the Justice Institute, and the sole breadwinner for the family, has been off work since his diagnosis, and Moreno-Boerma had planned to stay home with the children until the youngest was in kindergarten. And because Boerma has to sleep on an incline as a result of the surgery, the couple will have to invest in an expensive specialized bed.

Friends of the family have organized an event to raise both funds for the family and awareness of the disease. Tickets are on sale now for the event on May 24, 6:30 p.m. at Sammy J’s (15770 Croydon Dr.), which will feature a silent auction, raffle, door prizes, drinks and appetizers.

Moreno-Boerma also hopes to have information about esophageal cancer to distribute to attendees – something she wishes her family had more of at the outset of their journey.

“We have found through this process that there is no real support or help,” she said, noting she had to reach out to an American organization for the majority of the information she has collected. “There are so many people diagnosed here, but we couldn’t find anything. So we have felt very frustrated.”

While Boerma continues his slow recovery, he shares on the family’s website some things he has learned through the process, including the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people, asking for help when you need it and giving back – something the family hopes to do in the coming months.

“We are sharing our story to create awareness and perhaps help someone else and prevent esophageal cancer,” Boerma writes.

“We are blessed to be part of an amazing community and we also want to extend our thanks to those who will join us as we continue the next phase.”

To find out more about the Boermas, or to buy tickets to the May 24 fundraiser, email boermafamilyfundraiser@gmail.com or visit www.boermafamilyjourney.com

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