At age 60, Jesse Lee Hampton, Jr., was enjoying his hobbies of tennis, fishing and boating. But he knew something was up when he began losing an unusual amount of weight and had stomach issues that disrupted his sleep.
“Even though I play tennis, and I’m relatively thin,” Jesse says, “it just wasn’t common for me to be losing that kind of weight.” His primary care doctor suggested he get a colonoscopy. “And that started the process from there,” he says.
The doctor doing the colonoscopy stopped in the middle of the procedure. “He told me that he could not go any further because there was a blockage there,” says Jesse. It was stage 3 colorectal cancer, and quickly progressed to stage 4.
A Family History of Cancer
Jesse was all too familiar with the disease because it had affected and claimed the lives of so many members of his family. “My mom had colon cancer,” he says. “My grandmother died of colon cancer. My three aunts died of colon cancer and stomach cancer.”
Colorectal cancer isn’t the only form of cancer that affected Jesse’s family. Three women in his family died from uterine cancer. His brother was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and Jesse himself had prostate cancer two years before developing colorectal cancer. His family has documented at least 55 relatives since 1904 who have had various cancers.
Jesse attributes the staggering amount of cancer in his family to Lynch syndrome, a diagnosis he’s received. Lynch syndrome, often called hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is an inherited disorder that increases the risk of many types of cancer, particularly cancers of the colon (large intestine) and rectum, which are collectively referred to as colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is preventable—and it’s treatable when caught early. Colon cancer screening is one of the most effective early detection and prevention services available in medicine today. The American Cancer Society’s guidelines recommend a first screening at age 45—or earlier if you have a family history. Learn what to expect for your first colonoscopy.
Jesse’s Care Experience
After unsuccessfully pursuing treatment for his colorectal cancer at another medical institution in Atlanta, Jesse’s wife insisted they get a second opinion—which led him to Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.
Jesse’s physician at Winship confirmed that he was “in pretty bad shape.” But this time his care team went an important step further with diagnostics and found that Jesse had a gene that meant the FDA-approved immunotherapy drug Keytruda could work well for him. The drug is particularly effective for people with Lynch syndrome-related colorectal cancer.
“I was probably two months into the therapy when we started getting results on the tumors and the cancer cells,” says Jesse. “The lymph nodes started looking better. And all of a sudden, the cancer in my stomach was completely eradicated. So, we knew we were on to something.”
Jesse’s sense of taste began to return, and so did his energy level. “All that process took probably a good seven, eight months,” he says. “And I finally got my body in good condition where it’s kind of back to normal.”
He’s back to work now after not being able to work because he was too weak. Although he’s still working on a limited schedule, he says it’s “a lot better than it was.”
Jesse is quick to credit his care team at Winship. “Everyone was involved,” he says. “Everybody was encouraging. It was a full-blown blitz. I hate to use a football term, but it was a blitz.”
Get Screened, Get a Second Opinion and Get the Best Care You Can
Because of their strong family history of cancer, Jesse says his younger relatives—nieces and nephews—are now getting colonoscopies in their thirties and early forties. One of his nieces had to come home from college to get her colonoscopy. “They have to do whatever they have to do,” he says.
The other important lesson Jesse took from his experience is about the value of a second opinion. “If one doctor says something, get a second opinion,” he says. “Especially with a terminal disease or a disease such as this, you need other opinions.” Winship patients routinely receive not only a second opinion, but a variety of opinions from their multidisciplinary team of experts, each of whom brings a different perspective.
Now that he can “see a light at the end of the tunnel” in his own cancer experience, Jesse says he is able to “move on to help my family members and other folks who need to know.”
His best advice, besides seeking second opinions? “Never give up,” he says, adding that you will go through emotional issues dealing with the challenge of a cancer diagnosis. “But get the best treatment you can possibly get.”
Jesse certainly feels he received the best possible treatment available at Winship. “This is one of the greatest places I’ve been,” he says, adding, “This place saved my life. They really did.”
About Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University
Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University is Georgia’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, a prestigious distinction given to the top 3% of cancer centers nationwide for conducting cancer research and providing training that is transforming cancer care, prevention, detection and survivorship. Winship discovers, develops, delivers and teaches some of the world’s most effective ways to prevent, detect, diagnose and treat each patient’s unique cancer. Cancer care at Winship includes specialists with deep expertise and experience in cancer; multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment planning and care coordination that caters to each patient’s individual needs; therapies supported by the latest advances in cancer research; and comprehensive clinical trials and support services.