Joe Elbaum

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with parotid cancer. I underwent extensive surgery that involved removal of my parotid gland and many muscles in my cheek.

The operation itself took 11 hours to complete. Then I had to undergo chemoradiation treatment five days a week for eight weeks. 

Chemotherapy and radiation are tough. My wife and I had to drive 60 miles to and from the healthcare center, and after each round I was drained. But throughout all of this, we focused on the fact that life would become a little more normal each day. Our motto is “live through it, and look forward!” This might sound strange, but my family and I knew things would be okay. It is in our nature to be positive and we all remained that way throughout my care.

…we drew on inner strength that we did not know we had

Our shared positivity helped us stay motivated to get through treatment. My wife and I were the perfect team. She was there to boost and support me during my care. Even if she did not have a bed to sleep on, she would spend nights in the hospital room with me. 

When the nurses came in at night, she was able to hold my hand and tell me to go back to sleep. When I was sleeping during the day, she would make sure that the nurses didn’t throw away my meal, so that I was able to eat when I woke up. It was important for me that she was there, and it was important to her that she knew what was going on. Her presence helped in my healing process. Together, we drew on inner strength that we did not know we had.

The physical deformity doesn’t matter to them, because they had their grandpa home

Cancer has brought drastic changes into my life. I have almost no hearing in my left ear, I cannot close my left eye, I cannot eat on the left side of my mouth, I lost 60 pounds, my speech is impaired and my face looks totally different. But throughout all of this, I focus on the fact that I am still here. I have accepted that life brings many changes, but even with these changes, I still have a wonderful life and family. 

This whole experience was obviously not great, but still, life is good

Additionally, I have amazing daughters and grandchildren who incentivize me to keep going. At first, we were unsure how my grandkids would react to my treatment, and all of the physical changes it entailed. Their grandpa is scary looking. My wife says I look like Frankenstein, or that it looks like I had a baseball sewn onto my face. But when the kids finally visited, they barely reacted. The kids came, they saw, they kissed. The physical deformity doesn’t matter to them, because they had their grandpa home. Though I look very different, they knew I was the same guy.

This whole experience was obviously not great, but still, life is good. Our whole family has lived through it, and now we collectively look forward to what life will bring next.