At a time when most people are planning detailed holiday menus, Dr. Chinh Le faced a different kind of gastric challenge.
It was a few days before Thanksgiving 2014 when Le learned that he had stage III stomach cancer. A laparoscopy shortly after the holiday revealed the cancer had metastasized to his abdomen, upgrading the tumor to stage IV.
Le, a UCI Health geriatrician, knew the news wasn’t good. But he was confident that his professional colleagues at the UCI Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center would deliver the best possible outcome.
Shrinking the tumor
In December, Le began chemotherapy. If his body responded well, they would proceed with surgery to remove the tumor.
Ten weeks later, the tumor was no longer visible but a biopsy indicated the presence of a superficial layer of cancer cells. The surgery was a go.
In March 2015, UCI Health colorectal surgeon Dr. Alessio Pigazzi performed a subtotal gastrectomy — removing part of Le’s stomach, along with the remains of the tumor.
Le went through an additional 10 weeks of chemotherapy, completing treatment in June 2015.
Today, he is on maintenance chemotherapy with oral medications. Although he has undergone subsequent surgeries for a bowel obstruction and cholecystitis, he approaches life with optimism.
“I feel like I have a pretty normal, productive life. I’m happy with it. I feel like I am able to enjoy more after that very traumatic experience. Every day is a bonus,” he says.
Continuing to make a difference
Le currently treats frail elderly patients through a UCI contract with CalOptima to provide care locally through the national PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) program. He is one of several physicians on the interdisciplinary team who helps these patients live independently in the community.
“I enjoy working and working with this patient population,” he says. “I’m able to make some difference for a lot of people. So, I’m happy.”
Paying it forward
Last fall, Le made a gift in support of Pigazzi’s research. It was an expression of gratitude for the expert care he received.
“I believe his complicated surgery was one of the main things that gave me a cure and a stable condition,” he says.
On Saturday, June 8, the UCI physician will join his colleagues at the UCI Anti-Cancer Challenge to help raise funds to support cancer researchers, including Pigazzi.
‘Guts and Glory’
You’ll find Le with “Guts and Glory” digestive disease team members at the starting line for the 5K run/walk. He has invited friends and family to join him in raising awareness of the cancer center in the community.
“I am happy to attend the Anti-Cancer Challenge because it is one of the milestones marking my healthy and productive life as a cancer survivor and I would like to share hope with others who are suffering from cancer,” he says.
“I set a fundraising goal of $2,000 and it’s coming along. But I don’t really worry about the $2,000 goal because I already have a strong supporter-donor, my wife.”