As some of the loyal listeners and blog readers know, I lost my mom to cancer in 1997. Add to that my love of history and a tasty beverage, and you’ll understand why this article really jumped out at me. Do you know Tom’s Tavern at Central & Washington? If not, you SHOULD! It’s run by Michael Ratner.
(Courtesy of Glen Creno – Arizona Republic)
The sagging economy and construction in downtown Phoenix have been big challenges to Michael Ratner’s restaurant.
But that’s not what’s keeping him home when he’d rather be at his place, Tom’s Tavern.
He’s in a full-time fight with esophageal cancer that is draining his time and energy. He can’t make it into the restaurant very often and when he does, he just can’t do all the things he wants.
“Listen, I’m a tough cookie,” he said on a recent visit to the tavern. “I’ll be around for a few years. But I don’t even know how to express it. It’s so frustrating. I see the place, and it’s not what I want. I know what I want. I know I can’t do it. That’s the real issue. I don’t have the energy.”
The original Tom’s opened in 1929 in a nearby neighborhood. A restaurant group bought the brand and moved it to its spot at Central Avenue and Washington Street.
Ratner bought it 18 years ago and has turned it into a favorite spot for governors, mayors, judges from the nearly courthouse, lawyers and business people.
But the cancer has taken a toll. It was diagnosed nearly two years ago. Ratner has had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation and still hasn’t gotten rid of it.
He had been looking forward to running the business without the disruption of construction from the light-rail line and the CityScape development. He had hoped that CityScape might draw enough people to the area to justify a dinner business.
But the cancer has trumped the economic and construction troubles.
He has put the business up for sale and, if it doesn’t sell, he’ll close it. There’s no timetable for that. Ratner just realizes it’s too much to handle along with the cancer treatment.
“I used to seat everybody,” he said. “I can barely walk now. Even with medication, I hurt.”
Esophageal cancer sneaks up on people. Medical specialists, victims of the disease and their families say people often think they have acid reflux and don’t bother to mention it to a doctor.
“That’s one of the biggest problems,” said Jerry Bauer of Phoenix, an esophageal-cancer survivor. “By the time you see somebody, it’s too late. Or very late.”
Bauer is a regular at the Esophageal Cancer Support Group at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center. The group was founded by Ratner’s wife, Terry, a registered nurse at the hospital. When her husband was diagnosed, she could find groups for just about every kind of cancer except the kind her husband has.
“These people all have one thing in common,” she said. “There’s a bond there. . . . It’s kind of like a family. I know everyone is concerned when someone has a problem in the group.”
Dr. Darrell Wadas, section chief of gastroenterology and internal medicine at Good Samaritan, said about 16,000 new cases of esophageal cancer are reported every year nationally. He said the vast majority will prove fatal because they are reported at a late stage.
Wadas said getting a simple endoscopy scan can detect the precursor throat condition of esophageal cancer. He said a new procedure that helps regrow healthy new cells in the irritated area can spare a patient a severe surgical procedure.
“There’s so much to be gained and so little cost or risk,” he said.
The Ratners knew something was wrong when Michael felt bad after eating a couple of nights in a row. He had the test and, Terry said, surgery a month later. Since then, it’s been a fight with a tenacious foe.
Michael Ratner said he knows things are difficult. He’s very focused on his treatment. He also wants to see Tom’s stay around. He’s willing to help any new buyers get the hang of how the place runs.
“It really does disturb me,” he said. “I want to see it have a continuous life.”
As for himself, he’s not pessimistic.
“It’s just a tough time in my life,” he said.