Faces of Courage

The Strength to Face It, The Hope to Fight It.

The Faces of Courage project recognizes individuals who have shown remarkable courage and grace throughout their head and neck cancer journey. By sharing their stories we wish to instill hope in those who are traveling a similar path.

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Bob

Bob

“I am very happy to be here today. Actually, I am happy to be anywhere today, because the odd’s weren’t always promising! I had anaplastic thyroid cancer—an aggressive and highly fatal form of thyroid cancer with a life expectancy of less than six months. It has been twelve years since my thyroid cancer surgery and combined radiation and chemotherapy. My wife and I celebrated our fiftieth wedding anniversary and several more! Against all odds, I am cancer free!”

Cat

Cat

“I have been a serious basketball player for as long as I can remember. It would make sense, then, that a life-changing moment would occur during a basketball game. I was just doing what I loved when I got hit in the neck. Weeks later, my neck was still hurting and it was swollen. Finally, I got a definitive diagnosis of thyroid cancer. I was desperate to get back in the game. That season was very special to me, because I learned that basketball was more than a game to me: it was a way of healing.”

Dan

Dan

“When I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in the right tonsillar area of my throat at the age of 33, I assumed my career as a clarinetist and saxophonist was over. The standard treatment would have involved breaking my jaw and splitting my lip in order to gain access to the tumor. But my brilliant team of physicians—and miracle-workers—offered me a second option, based on my individual needs, which avoided that potentially career-ending surgery. Thanks to them I’m still playing… and breathing.”

Danielle

Danielle

“I was lucky to have a skilled team of surgeons. During my surgery, it was discovered that the thyroid cancer had invaded my trachea and larynx. What was supposed to be a three-hour surgery, turned into seven hours. But I was in great hands and they were able to remove the cancer.”

David

David

“Although it took years of managing the thyroid replacement medications to feel back to normal after my thyroid cancer surgery and radioactive iodine treatment, I was apparently one of the lucky ones. A few years later, my aunt was diagnosed with anaplastic thyroid cancer—she passed away a few months after her diagnosis at age 62. When I was first diagnosed I did not think anyone else I knew had an experience with thyroid cancer. Within a short time, I came to realize that this disease affected many more people than I originally thought.”

Duke

Duke

“I was diagnosed with a Neuroblastoma in my neck the size of an orange, two weeks before my third birthday. Although most doctors said my tumor was inoperable, 98% of it was successfully removed. Four months later, I relapsed with wide-spread disease which was treated with 6 months of intensive chemo, a stem cell transplant and radiation. In 2007, I was declared cancer free.”

Edhild

Edhild

“My diagnosis of the capital C in December 2008 didn’t come as such a big surprise. I had procrastinated seeing an oral surgeon for a dark gray spot on my tongue. After a seven-hour surgery and 33 sessions of radiation, I was officially released from my specialist’s care in August 2014. No more PET scans, no more checkups! Now I always talk about my experience, because I remember how much I wanted someone to tell me of a positive outcome. I am a survivor and have become a better person.”

Edward

Edward

“When I was diagnosed with throat cancer, I was shocked. However, I was determined to fight it as hard as I could. Cancer had become a part of my life, but I was not going to let it take over. Maintaining the dedication, discipline, and motivation to exercise and stay healthy is no easy task, but my advice to any cancer patient is to prioritize your health. I know that enduring treatment for throat cancer has made me even more confident—I can face life’s greatest obstacles. With the support of family and friends and my self-determination to lead an active lifestyle, I know that I have everything I need to be happy and healthy.”

Gaetano

Gaetano

“I was first diagnosed with salivary gland cancer 17 years go. A few years later I had two tumors on my base of tongue. After surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, I was cancer free. Later I needed to have my jaw reconstruction because the treatments had caused it to deteriorate. Even though my ability to speak, hear, eat and swallow were impacted by treatment, I know those treatments saved my life. Treatable and curable. After hearing my doctors say these two words, I knew my recovery wouldn't be easy, but that eventually I would heal. I am excited to see what more life has to offer!”

George

George

“After 29 treatments of radiation and a partial laryngectomy, I was told I needed a total laryngectomy. I thought losing my voice and living with a hole in my neck was the worst thing that could happen to me. Little did I know, the surgery would change my outlook on life in a more positive way. I have a new motto: ‘Cancer may have changed my voice for the worse, but it has changed me for the better.’”

Gina

Gina

“I have been diagnosed with cancer six times. I know that no matter how tired I am, or how aggressive the treatment will be, that I have the perseverance to beat it. My hard work to heal has paid off. I have been cancer free since 2013. Cancer is 0-6 and I am undefeated!”

Heather

Heather

“I lost my right eye, surrounding bone, muscle and contents of the orbit to a rare cancer called Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma of the Lacrimal Gland. I struggle everyday with my appearance but the new me has grown as a human being because I am a survivor. I have learned to adapt to change with greater resilience, I appreciate the little things like never before and do my best to live in the present moment thankful for all my blessings. I have so much gratitude for the endless love and support of my family, my rock star doctors and ocularist, and to my teachers.”

Jack

Jack

IN LOVING MEMORY (1932–2014)

“I was diagnosed with cancer several times over the past 25 years. The diagnosis never really got easier to hear, but the hopelessness of that first diagnosis has been replaced with a sense of hope and confidence. Since my first surgery, my wife & I welcomed seven grandchildren. We have danced at our daughter’s wedding and seven B’nai Mitzvah, attended five high school graduations, three college graduations, and have witnessed babies grow into beautiful adults.”

Jack

Jack

“I had a rather ordinary irritation in my throat that just would not go away. Truthfully, I didn’t think much of it. Two years later, it was still there. Fast forward—cancer of the tonsil. I didn’t even know you could get tonsil cancer. I was not a candidate for surgery. I was treated with aggressive radiation and chemotherapy and the tumor disappeared. Two years later, I found out that my jaw was fractured from the intense radiation I received, which required a complex reconstruction of my jaw.”

Jason

Jason

“A phone call changed my life forever… squamous cell carcinoma of my right tonsil… I had two sons, a beautiful wife, and a business that needed me… I struggled through a neck dissection, chemotherapy and 33 rounds of intense bilateral radiation. For four months, I had a feeding tube which was inserted into my stomach, because I was unable to even swallow the smallest sips of water. I was left with no salivary gland function, a loss of hearing from the chemotherapy and a whole new outlook on life. I am a survivor.”

Jerry

Jerry

“I was shaving and felt a pea-sized lump in my neck. Somehow, I knew enough not to ignore it. Within a week I learned that I had base of tongue cancer and it had spread to a lymph node. It was a tough road of surgery and radiation. Like many survivors of head and neck cancer, I’ve been left with residual issues from the treatment. But more importantly, I have a sustained feeling of gratitude for something most everyone takes for granted: the ability to speak and swallow. What a gift!”

J. Jay

J. Jay

“I was afraid I would be a freak with maybe three-quarters of a face. They actually cut above my mouth, around my nose and under my eye. To cut out my entire upper jawbone they had to peel my cheek back—then they were able to remove the tumor. Here I am, nearly twenty years later. A survivor.”

John

John

“In 1992, I was treated for head and neck cancer. Months later, I knew it had recurred, but my doctor told me I was wrong. After several months of trying to get my doctor to take my complaints seriously, a friend who was a pathologist confirmed my cancer had returned. My doctor gave me 9 months to live. I was not ready to give up and with the advice of friends found a new team of doctors who gave me hope and removed my tumor. Thanks to their vision and skill, I have enjoyed 24 additional years with my wonderful wife and family!”

Kaley

Kaley

“It was a routine wisdom teeth removal that discovered a myxoma tumor located in my right mandible. An 8-hour surgery led me to one week in the pediatric ICU where I celebrated my 19th birthday. My nurses, doctors and music therapists threw me a Hawaiian-themed birthday party during my stay. It was the best birthday I’ve ever had, and truly meant more to me than anything materialistic ever will. My tumor was never looked at as a burden, but rather, a lens to see the world in a different way and to recognize those who do everything in their power to better the lives of those who need it most.”

Kitty

Kitty

“In April 2016 I was diagnosed with a rare mucosal melanoma of the left tonsil. My incredible medical team jumped into action to save my life. One year later, with three surgeries, proton therapy and a clinical trial behind me, I finished treatment. The amazing support of my family and friends has been critical in my recovery. Once I learned to accept my ‘new normal,’ I was able to move past the trauma and enjoy the many gifts of my life. This remarkable journey has taught me that no matter how dark the clouds may seem the bright light of hope can and will prevail!”

Laura

Laura

“I needed a flu shot and mentioned some swollen glands. My internist thought I needed to have the bulge tested. After an MRI, I found out that I had a salivary gland tumor involving the lymph nodes on both sides of my neck. It’s been 2 years since my surgery and my recovery was bumpy, but I am now feeling wonderful—almost back to my ‘old’ self…”

Lee

Lee

“Four recurrences in 5 years after the first surgery and radiation for tongue cancer really tested my endurance. Fortunately, we had an extraordinary team. I was followed very closely so that my recurrences were caught quickly and attended to immediately. Despite the fact that the surgery and radiation were very tough on me, the compassion of the entire staff gave me the courage to endure. Now, 6 years after the last recurrence, I’m cancer free, grateful and enjoying my life.”

Lesley Nan

Lesley Nan

“Our bodies change with each invasive procedure. Some changes are visible. Others are only experienced. All of them, no matter how difficult, are beautiful, for they allow us to continue forward, reveal our strength and remind us of the individuals who dedicate their hearts and minds to our futures.”

Linda

Linda

“Over the last eighteen years I’ve faced a recurrence, subsequent surgeries, multiple radiations and chemotherapy. The last surgery resulted in a total laryngectomy and a blown carotid artery. Giving up hope never entered my mind. I am a two-time cancer survivor, living life to the fullest and never losing sight of my many blessings.”

Liza

Liza

“I ran the NYC Marathon with ‘Team in Training’ in 2016 to raise money for cancer research. Running became my way to keep the memory of those I had lost to cancer alive. Three months later, I was diagnosed with tongue cancer. How could I have cancer? My only thoughts were how to fight and how to survive. Cancer made me feel more vulnerable than I ever had in my life. My advice? Ask for help, allow people to love you and be honest with yourself and others.”

Luca

Luca

“I am an artist. My main focus is painting, sculpture, and animated film and video. I direct a graduate program in fine arts. I continued teaching soon after my treatments. My students said that from working with me, they learned an important life lesson: even under tough circumstances, one’s life must go on.”

Margaret

Margaret

“During the grueling treatments including chemotherapy, radiation and surgery for my tonsil cancer, I had to relearn how to eat, drink and swallow foods. The thought of losing my ability to eat sometimes overwhelmed me. Every day that I needed someone to help me eat made me want to work even harder to regain my independence. I was not going to let my cancer define my future. Only I could decide that. I knew my life was worth fighting for no matter what. I keep a photo of myself recovering in the hospital to remind me that I can conquer anything. No matter what the future brings, I know that I must never give up and keep on fighting!”

Margaret

Margaret

“My cancer journey has come a long way with the help and support from my family, doctors and hospital staff members. Without their support and my determination to stay optimistic, I would not have come this far. My journey is not over yet, but I would tell anyone who thinks their health may be at risk to seek medical help immediately. Every day counts, and life is a precious gift worth fighting for.”

Maryanne

Maryanne

IN LOVING MEMORY (1961–2018)

“I am the scary cancer story. I have been fighting thyroid cancer for over forty years and now have metastatic cancer. I know there is no cure and that it is my life sentence. I’ve been terrified, but I find hope in having the most experienced doctors. They are using a targeted chemotherapy agent to slow the progression. I am a cancer lifer.“

Matthew

Matthew

“I was diagnosed with a rare tumor when I was twelve months old. I have had eighteen trips to the operating room. Someone once asked me if I could erase my tumor, as though it never happened, would I do it? My answer was no, because it’s given me confidence and perspective—I’m able to appreciate things more. I know that I matter to other people. After all I’ve been through, I know how brave I am and that’s something no one can take away from me.”

Mitzi

Mitzi

“I had thyroid cancer. My daughter-in-law had thyroid cancer. And my granddaughter had thyroid cancer. While we all received the best care and are all well today, we continue to worry about the hereditary nature of this cancer. For these reasons, our family has been supportive of the THANC Foundation and will continue to do so in hopes of finding a cure. Clinical research will help us gain a broader understanding of why this disease has the fastest growing incidence rate in the United States.”

Preston

Preston

Preston was only a few months old when he had to undergo ten months of chemotherapy and two separate surgeries to remove a rare aggressive tumor on his face. Now seven years old, Preston enjoys video games and playing soccer. He can find humor in everything and loves to tell jokes. Preston and his family are happy to say he has been cancer free for five years!

Robin

Robin

“My tongue cancer has taken my family and me on a path we never anticipated. Now, after many surgeries, I have a crooked smile, a lip that can no longer pucker, a tongue that I cannot stick out and a new right jaw that used to be my left shoulder. I am finally healthy and extremely thankful. We have met amazing, brilliant, and extremely compassionate people along the way that have made the experience remarkable and most importantly, successful!”

Roz

Roz

“On a cold day in late November of 2014, I received the news that I had advanced skin cancer. My entire forehead, along with the underlying bone, was removed to get rid of the cancer. After this I needed to wear a wound vac. Finally, the wound vac was removed and a skin graft from my thigh was placed on my forehead. It’s been quite the battle, but I am reminded everyday how grateful I am to be alive thanks to my wonderful team of doctors for helping me through this journey.”

Ruth

Ruth

“‘What’s that big lump in your neck?’ That was the unnerving question at the end of an otherwise relaxing massage, on an otherwise blissful vacation. One misdiagnosis, two surgeries and eight years later, I credit my good health to research that was conducted years before that fateful massage.”

Sergei

Sergei

“That bump on the roof of my mouth was not a benign growth but a mucoepidermoid carcinoma. Following a pair of surgeries, I was able to finish high school and enroll at Duke University. At 34 years old, a freshly minted young professor in NYC, I felt an unnervingly familiar sensation in my mouth. I had an aggressive recurrence of the same cancer. I promised my wife, even when I couldn’t get out of bed, that I would get back into shape and be stronger than ever. Once I finished treatment I started triathlon training and two years later completed the Lake Placid Ironman!”

Sophia

Sophia

“It all began with an awful toothache. At age 9 I was diagnosed with a rare mucoepidermoid carcinoma. My surgery involved the removal of my right jaw bone, which was replaced with part of my leg bone and tissue. During senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I was hospitalized for extreme jaw pain. Risky exploratory surgery revealed a screw sticking in my soft tissue. The recovery turned my life upside down but I have found ways to adapt to the challenges I face. I have learned to accept these moments in life as an opportunity for self-reflection. This diagnosis has changed me for the better! Remember a diagnosis does not define your story, it is merely a chapter, and soon this chapter will be a distant memory.”

Tara

Tara

“I had felt a lump in my neck for about a year. At the not-so-gentle urging of friends and family, I finally decided it was time to get it checked out. Much to my surprise, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer a few weeks after my 28th birthday. One never wants to hear those dreaded words, but with the support of my family, friends, and doctors, I was able to get through my treatment—a total thyroidectomy with lymph node dissection and radioactive iodine treatment—without much difficulty. It’s been over 7 months since my surgery and so far, so good!”

Theresa

Theresa

“In the moment that I found out I had tongue cancer, I felt both relief and shock. Finally, I had the answer to my mysterious and nagging symptoms but I knew the journey would be long and difficult. During my treatment which included surgical removal of half of my tongue followed by chemotherapy and radiation, I followed the advice of a close friend who had traveled a similar path. She suggested taking a picture of myself in the midst of radiation therapy. I still hold on to this picture as a symbol of everything I have overcome—even as I sit here today 3 years cancer free!”

Tom

Tom

“After years of smoking one cigar a day, I developed a habit of clearing my throat. My family encouraged me to see a doctor who diagnosed me with laryngeal cancer. My surgeon was able to completely clear my throat of the cancer while maintaining the function of my vocal cords. I am still cancer free to this day. Do NOT be afraid—and seek advice from a doctor if you suspect something is wrong. My story could have ended very differently if I had waited…”

Tony

Tony

“I see a change in my body, there is something different about me that I cannot put my finger on… I know I’m not exactly the same. As a rock singer, I feel grateful I still have my voice. I feel thankful that cancer is behind me… I am one of the lucky ones.”

Tony

Tony

“Cancer is an ugly monster. After a biopsy, I was diagnosed with oral cancer. To defeat it, I had to shift my attitude. My first doctor said if I survived the operation I might have only a 50% chance of living. On my fourth wedding anniversary, my wife and I found a new surgeon who assured us with a plan and hope for the future. I underwent five surgeries including a jaw reconstruction. My facial disfigurement at times was a heavy emotional burden. Looking back at my journey, I have come to realize that cancer is never truly gone, but I maintain hope and remain fearless through whatever will come. I will defeat this monster.”

Victor

Victor

“I never knew how strong my wife and I were… until being strong enough to beat cancer was the only choice we had!”

William

William

“When I was six, my mother noticed my left cheek was slightly swollen. Then came the doctor visits. Dentists, pediatricians, oral surgeons for multiple biopsies, everyone was stumped. We traveled from Buffalo to NYC for 10 surgical procedures in two years to finally diagnose and treat a rare Non-involuting Congenital Hemangomia inside my left mandible. The final surgery was a mandibular reconstruction with free flap using a donor bone from my leg. The bone is fixed and is stronger than ever… and so am I.”

William

William

“After discussing the treatment required to try and save my life, my surgeon warned me that the procedure required for my cancer would leave a long scar running down my neck. I told him that it would make a great story for my grandchildren. Since the oldest of my six children was only 16 at the time, I think he understood it reflected my confidence in him and my hope for a recovery. My surgeon did such an exceptional job there is really no scar to show. I am not complaining!”

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