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An ally in the fight against esophageal cancer

January 10, 2019 | UCI Health
cancer survivor sandy lang

As a former Marine, Hollywood stuntman, businessman and athlete, Sandy Lang was pretty sure he could conquer anything. But Lang seemed to have met his match when he learned he had esophageal cancer.

The diagnosis in 2005 was stunning. As a young man, Lang had signed to play professional baseball. When he got injured, he instead joined the U.S. Marines and served his country with tours in Vietnam and Israel. He even survived capture on the battlefield, eventually returning to the United States and risking his life as a Hollywood stuntman for the next decade.

Lang later started his own production company, took the helm of a film company then became chairman of the board of a publicly held entertainment company. The San Fernando Valley resident met and married the love of his life at about 50 and became the doting father of a son who is now in his 20s.

Surprised by esophageal cancer

Lang sure didn’t see the cancer diagnosis coming. When his doctor, a well-respected Los Angeles gastroenterologist, said there was nothing he could do for him, Lang says one of his first thoughts was, “‘I’ve been shot, I’ve been a prisoner of war twice and I survived that. I’m not going to die of cancer now!'”

His gastroenterologist recommended that he consult with Dr. Kenneth J. Chang, founding director of the UCI Health H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC). Chang is an expert in advanced endoscopic procedures for esophageal cancer diagnosis, staging and therapy.

“After spending about two hours with Dr. Chang, he told me, ‘I can’t treat you,’” Lang recalls. “I felt like my heart went to my stomach, until he followed up with, ‘I’m going to cure you.'”

Minimally invasive treatments

And cure Lang he did. Chang used advanced endoscopic techniques to biopsy, stage and ultimately annihilate Lang’s disease. To eliminate cancerous tissue, he performed an endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR).

Assisted by a scope and camera, Chang successfully removed diseased portions of Lang’s esophageal lining. He subsequently followed up with multiple endoscopic radiofrequency ablation (RFA) treatments to eradicate the remaining precancerous cells, known as Barrett’s esophagus.

Chang, who has published findings on these techniques in prestigious publications such as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Gastroenterology, is one of the pioneers of endoscopic EMR and RFA treatments for both esophageal and stomach cancers. Both are minimally invasive procedures that have revolutionized cancer care.

“Of course, the point is always to help patients like Sandy live cancer-free as well as precancer-free,” says Chang, who is also conducting groundbreaking work in the early detection and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

“The only way to give anyone real peace of mind is to treat and remove the cancer but also follow up with treatments to reduce the likelihood of future cancer.”

Going the extra mile

Lang continues to get yearly checkups from Chang, despite the traffic-choked drive from Los Angeles’ Valley Village neighborhood to the CDDC in Orange.

“Once you’ve been Ken Chang’s patient, all other doctors’ care pales in comparison. The entire staff treats you like a god, no matter who you are. You’re Ken Chang’s patient. That says it all,” says Lang.

“There are doctors in this world, and then there are special ones — the ones who truly care about the people they treat. That’s Ken Chang,” Lang says.

“And he also just happens to be one of the few who can also cure esophageal cancer. It’s hard to put into words what I think about this man. People like Dr. Chang give us all a lot more hope.”

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