30 Stories in 30 Days
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.
One evening in 2005, while preparing to go to dinner on a family vacation cruise, I noticed a lump on the right side of my neck. No pain. Just a lump. I felt fine otherwise. Weeks passed and the lump just wouldn’t go away. After a series of doctor visits and inconclusive biopsies, a surgery to remove the swollen gland revealed that I had head and neck cancer of unknown origin. When my wife and I heard the prognosis we were stunned. We walked outside the hospital that August afternoon, looked up at an otherwise perfect summer day and thought, “How can I have throat cancer? How does a person who has never smoked or chewed tobacco get this diagnosis?” As you can imagine, many other thoughts were spinning around in my head. My wife Karen, my true guardian angel, took charge and found another guardian angel, a respected head and neck cancer surgeon in Baltimore Maryland. After a day of testing, he gave me my first sign of hope. His predicted prognosis, “Dry mouth and old age.” The few negative thoughts of dread spinning in my head instantly were relieved. You see, battling cancer is as much a mental challenge as it is a physical one. You cling to genuine hope and trust that the health care professionals that God has led you to are the best in the world.
After a five and a half hour surgery, squamous cell cancer was removed from my tonsil, as well as a few lymph nodes. Tests revealed the cancer had not spread beyond the head and neck region. Good news for sure. Unremarkable annual checkups for twelve years went by and life with my wife, family, friends and work returned to normal. A forward positive outlook on life was at hand.
Then one day I noticed a small blister in the crease of my cheek and gum that wouldn’t go away. After a series of doctor visits and hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions, a biopsy was taken. Once again, on an otherwise bright and sunny summer afternoon, I got the call that the biopsy tested positive for squamous cell cancer. Boom! Once again, I was floored. I’ll tell you this, for me, having to tell my family the news was far worse than hearing it for myself- far worse. After the initial shock subsided, it was back to work finding a plan to battle this disease. A visit to my doctor revealed that this secondary cancer was not the same as the first. Kind of good news amidst otherwise bad news.
The surgery and post op were tough. But our team was tougher.
Within days, Karen and I met our next set of guardian angels: my surgeons. I felt instant relief as the team outlined what would be an aggressive “free flap surgery” designed to once and for all remove this secondary cancer that might have been the result of the radiation therapy performed some 12 years ago, which was instrumental in saving my life from the first cancer. You see, I’d already had a lifetime of radiation, so that option was now unavailable to me. The nine hour surgery performed by the three surgical teams would rearrange some of my body parts in an effort to remove the cancer and afford me a fully functional quality of life afterwards. Make no mistake about it. The surgery and post op were tough. But our team was tougher. After recovery, testing once again indicated no spread of the cancer. Good news indeed!
Prior to my initial cancer diagnosis, I cherished spending time with my wife and children, grandchildren, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and customers of our family trucking business in Baltimore, Maryland. I enjoyed normal activities like going out with family and friends, vacations, working out, playing golf, working at the family business and the like. Fast forward to today. With the grace of God, my family, the care of my guardian angels and the belief that the best is yet to come, I’m enjoying each and every one of these blessings more than ever before.
A heartfelt “Thank you” to the THANC Foundation and the team of doctors, nurses, aides and administrative staff that have dedicated themselves to returning an excellent quality of life to folks like me. We are forever grateful.