Sixteen years ago, hearing my diagnosis of tonsil cancer knocked me off of my chair. I wasn’t a heavy smoker or drinker. I’m an entrepreneur, but I also have an active career in the theater. I am the uncle to many children, and have been a practitioner of yoga and meditation for 50 years. I live a healthy lifestyle, and my belief in philanthropy is central to my life. So I had a hard time keeping my balance and preparing myself for cancer treatment. The treatment itself was more debilitating than the illness. The radiation was the most challenging part of it all, resulting in relentless sore throats. I lost a total of 40 lbs and couldn’t even swallow for 3 months. The radiation eventually led to osteoradionecrosis (bone death due to radiation).
Recently, it became clear to my ear, nose and throat doctor that due to the treatment for the cancer in my tonsil 16 years ago, I had developed osteoradionecrosis. The next step would be a major surgery in that area to treat the condition.
I made an appointment with a highly recommended doctor who assisted me with swallowing issues due to head and neck cancer. When I went into the exam room, everything changed. I could see the care and time he took with me and all of his patients, and the concern he had for us. His respect for and attention to his patients was taken on by the rest of his team as well. They were incredible.
Because of my osteoradionecrosis, I underwent a challenging surgery that lasted ten hours. I received tremendous support after the operation. I had a patient advocate who helped me connect with the right people during my recovery. I spent 10 days in the hospital, and my advocate checked in with me every day. It was truly a loving experience.
Healing takes place on so many different levels. It even began before my surgery. Before the operation, I prepared myself mentally and emotionally. I exercised, ate healthy foods, meditated to help with the emotions, and practiced alternative therapies. This was all done in preparation for the experience. I had experience with this after my tonsil cancer almost 20 years earlier.
In the hospital, the care that I experienced helped me with my healing. I received support from friends, family, and my fantastic wife. It has now been about 5 months since surgery, and the healing continues. I respect my body. Physical therapy helps me get stronger. And lymphatic massage is a very relaxing healing technique that I also like to practice.
I don’t use the term “survivor of cancer.” Instead, I have had the experience of cancer. My experiences with cancer have altered my view on the world. I am more appreciative for the sacrifices that people in medicine offer—their skills, time, care. As a patient, I have to do my part too. I share responsibility for the preparation, following through on recommendations, keeping a good attitude. Only I can do this for myself. I have more gratitude for the world, nature, other people’s goodness and care. Cancer can become an experience that can allow you to take away great life lessons.
For someone who has recently been diagnosed, I would advise that it is wise to watch your emotions, watch your mind, and do everything you can do to face your illness. Don’t run in fear from it.