A former Marine, Hollywood stuntman, businessman and athlete, it seemed nothing was out of reach for Sandy Lang. But Lang, who lives with his family in Valley Village, Calif., seemed to have met his match in 2005 when he learned he had esophageal cancer.
The diagnosis was stunning. As a young man Lang was signed to play professional baseball. He got injured, however, and instead became a Marine, serving his country with tours in Vietnam and Israel. He survived being captured during the war—only to return to the United States and risk his life as a Hollywood stuntman for the next decade.
Later he owned his own production company, was president of a film company and then became chairman of the board of a publicly held entertainment company. Around age 50 Lang met and married the love of his life and became a doting father of a son who is now a college sophomore.
With a life seemingly characterized by invincibility, Lang sure didn’t see cancer coming. His doctor, a well-respected gastroenterologist in Los Angeles, told him there was nothing he could do for him.
“One of my 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!'” says Lang.
His gastroenterologist in Los Angeles recommended a consultation with Kenneth Chang, MD, founding director of the UC Irvine Health H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center (CDDC) and an expert in advanced endoscopic procedures for 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.'”
One of my 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!
Minimally Invasive Treatments That Cure
And cure 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 the techniques in prestigious publications such as The New England Journal of Medicine and 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 performing groundbreaking work in 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’ San Fernando Valley to the CDDC in Orange.
“Once you’ve been Ken Chang’s patient, all others care pale 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. And last year, Chang and his family reciprocated with a drive up to Los Angeles, where they attended Lang’s 70th birthday bash.
“There are doctors in this world, and then there are real doctors—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.”