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Stage 4 esophageal cancer survivor takes a daily walk to remember

Aggressive surgery for stage 4 esophageal cancer saved MaryPat Tiedemann’s life.
Aggressive surgery for stage 4 esophageal cancer at University of Minnesota Medical Center saved MaryPat Tiedemann’s life.

Every day, MaryPat Tiedemann goes on a walk near the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Across the river, she can see the East Bank of University of Minnesota Medical Center, where she was diagnosed and treated for stage 4 metastatic esophageal cancer.

Even though they can’t see her, she gives a little wave to her health care providers, whom she credits with giving her a second chance at life. Each time she is out walking, MaryPat feels grateful—for her life, for the specialists and for a risky surgery that has kept her cancer-free for two years.

“Life has changed now. I don’t take things for granted,” MaryPat said. “I wake up in the morning and thank God and thank everyone that I’m here.”

MaryPat’s diagnosis began with unexplained weight loss. In late 2010, she saw a specialist who ruled out problems related to a prior thyroid surgery. She was referred to Thoracic Surgeon Rafael Andrade, MD, who diagnosed MaryPat with cancer. “Once I was diagnosed, I basically needed to get my affairs in order. I had to leave my job and focus on my health,” MaryPat said.

Thus began MaryPat’s two-year treatment for cancer, led by Oncologist Anne Blaes, MD. MaryPat’s treatment was aggressive—radiation, chemotherapy and oral medication. MaryPat said Blaes served as an exceptional advocate as MaryPat navigated treatment and met with numerous specialists.

Learn more about lung and esophageal cancer.

MaryPat believes her physicians’ teamwork and expertise saved her life. Blaes worked closely with Andrade to decide if removing MaryPat’s esophagus—an esophagectomy—would help MaryPat beat cancer. An esophagectomy is a long, complex surgery, and they had to ensure that the benefits of the surgery would outweigh the risks. When MaryPat’s cancer came back in the same place even after rounds of chemo and radiation, both Blaes and Andrade recommended the surgery.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Andrade saying yes, and if it weren’t for Dr. Blaes being tenacious and being my cancer slayer, we never would have had the surgery,” MaryPat said.

Learn more about thoracic and esophageal surgery.

MaryPat feels fortunate to have an academic health center so close to her home.

“The U is a teaching hospital and they’re very well-known for research and development of various drugs that continue to help people with a cancer diagnosis,” she said. “The medical students and residents there train under magnificent surgeons and oncologists. They want to come here to learn and continue tradition of saving people’s lives.”