My sickness started the year I retired. After five months of symptoms, doctors diagnosed me with cancer in my tonsil. I underwent 35 radiation treatments and six rounds of chemo. Because my diagnosis coincided with my retirement, I had a lot of plans. Those plans inspired me and kept me going. I pictured sitting on the beach. I told myself, “You’re gonna get to the ocean.” I focused on the positive things I wanted to do, and that got me through it.
After treatment, I eagerly waited for my first scan, and everything looked good. But on the second scan, a small portion of my tonsil concerned the doctors. A year after my initial diagnosis, they diagnosed me with cancer for the second time. I had that portion of my tonsil removed, and we thought it would take care of everything. But it didn’t. The next year, I had two more surgeries.
Around the time of the first surgery, we found out my 86-year-old mom had lymphoma. While I recovered from my operation, she started getting chemo. I felt stressed. Dealing with everything weighed on me. But that’s life—things happen. I found that the best thing I could do was try to minimize my stress level.
A new surgeon later reconstructed my throat, and he is excellent. With both of my surgeries, the second one especially, the ICU staff were also awesome. They were great to me. I surprised them, too. They couldn’t believe it when I immediately got up and started moving! My mentality has always been to keep moving and stay positive.
After my surgeries, I had to go for another bout of proton radiation. I received 35 more treatments. During that time, I had to put my head down and get through it—that was the biggest part. The next year, all my tests looked good. And they’re still good now.
My mother is wonderful, and she also pulled through. We can’t ask for any more in our lives. We’re thrilled. She is amazing. Given her age, she had a rough time with chemo, but she is awesome right now. Her tests have all come back clear. She’s doing phenomenally, and I can’t thank God enough for that. We’ve been fortunate in that regard.
Cancer changed my life drastically, and I’m still trying to cope with the bigger changes it brought. I don’t eat or drink by mouth, and I don’t know if I ever will. I can rarely go out to dinner, something my significant other and I previously enjoyed.
Sometimes when we do go, I order a meal and ask them to box it up. My significant other eats it the next day. I can’t order a glass of wine or even a non-alcoholic drink. Maybe most of all, I miss being more socially active. I tend to avoid crowded places, as it’s harder to talk with a lot of commotion around me. I’m okay with people I know, but meeting new people is uncomfortable.
Though I would like to drink or eat something, it doesn’t appear in the cards for me. I use a feeding tube for everything. Still, I feel fortunate that I’m here. Now that I’m retired, I spend my time in Florida and upstate New York, and it’s been wonderful. I’ve been lucky. I can’t do all the things I once could, but I try to stay active. I golf once a week and take walks. I try to keep up with the activities I enjoy.
To me, every day is a blessing. I try not to take anything for granted. My doctors, especially my surgeon, saved my life. To anybody going through something similar, try to stay positive. There’s always hope. I would also encourage you to research your options. Know which doctors you can see. Be proactive with your doctors. My medical teams are great. They are always there for me, any time I want to call. It’s wonderful to see them remotely, too. Doctors you can depend on, ones you’re comfortable with, are critical during this journey.
There’s a lot to handle with cancer. Anything your doctors recommend, do it. Stay active, stay positive and listen to them. That’s gotten me this far, so I’m just going to stick with it. My life isn’t the same as before cancer, but I still sit by the ocean. Sometimes it’s a challenge, but I’m grateful to be here each day.