I got my diagnosis at a car wash. Here’s what happened: I went to my regular doctor, and he saw a growth in the back of my throat, near the base of my tongue. He asked, “What will you be doing in the very near future?” I told him I travel for work and that I was going to ride horses in Texas and make money. My doctor said that I would need a specialist to look at the growth. After my appointment, I went to the car wash and ran into a retired ENT. I’m retired from law enforcement, so he and I sometimes chat about our jobs while we’re waiting at the car wash cashier. The girl behind the counter says no matter what, we always talk about work when we’re there.
The strange thing is that the people at the car wash are some of my best informants. Whenever I’d go, I’d always give them some treat – potato chips, pretzels, whatever. For some reason, I didn’t do that. I just waved to them, walked by, and went straight to the cashier. I hadn’t done that in 30 years. Looking back, I feel like someone was watching over me .
The retired ENT asked what was going on. I told him about the diagnosis. He asked what I was planning to do. I said I was going to Texas to make money and ride horses. He said, “You don’t have a month. See to this now.” He sent me to a local doctor who said, “This is beyond my scope. I’m getting a little too old to do surgery, but I know the guy who wrote the book on what you’ve got.”
“Yes,” the doctor said.
“I’ll call him,” I replied. Within a day or so, I was in that doctor’s office. He confirmed my diagnosis, said I had cancer, and gave me a treatment plan.
He said it was too close to the epiglottis to get a comfortable margin and that we had to treat it with radiation and chemo. I was disappointed and asked him, “Are you telling me it’s inoperable, so we’re throwing things at the wall?”
He said, “No, we have different ways to treat different situations.”
It was funny because when I walked into his office, there were six shadow boxes of books he’d actually written about throat cancer and reconstruction. This is the first time I’d met the guy who really “wrote the book.” It was wonderful that he treated me not merely as a patient but also as a person. He remembered that I ride Harley-Davidsons and would always ask me if I rode up to my appointments. My speech therapist was a tremendous help to me through the difficulties I had with my treatment. The radiation and chemotherapy team was also phenomenal.
Within days, I was in chemotherapy and radiation therapy. I am now five years clean. There are some residual effects from radiation. I had some hoarseness in my throat. It affected my vocal cords a little. Radiation and chemotherapy kind of ruined my singing voice. I used to sing pretty well. I also have some lymphedema.
Now that I am five years clean, I would tell other patients that once you have confidence in your doctor, trust them. I value a second opinion in most situations, but I was so comfortable with my experience that I didn’t have to go any further than that, especially because there were two doctors who referred me to him.
My journey was certainly unexpected. From that day at the car wash, my life went in a new direction. But thanks to that serendipitous moment, I’m here to tell the story and I’m grateful to be alive.