My initial response was a mixture of shock and fear. The uncertainty of what to expect combined with the horror stories I found on the internet made this an extremely tough time for me. I recognize now that I should never have tried to find a prognosis online. But, throughout all of this anxiety and stress, I found hope and confidence in my clinical team. I had the utmost confidence in my care team, and I knew that they would do everything they could to help me.
My cancer case was unique because the doctors could not initially locate my primary tumor. I underwent surgery, which involved removal of my left tonsil and multiple lymph nodes. This decision saved my life. Though my initial diagnosis was HPV-related throat cancer, my final diagnosis was nasopharyngeal cancer. Looking back on my experience, it was important that I did not choose the route that seemed easiest. Rather, I took the route with the best chance of success, a route that I decided upon with the physician I instinctively trusted.
After surgery, I underwent 7 weeks of chemoradiation treatment. During treatment, I went through the darkest and deepest mental and physical tunnels. Despite the amazing care I received from the physicians and staff, this was a true test of my strength. The support of my amazing wife and kids, and the support from other family and friends, helped me get through treatment. They reminded me of life beyond treatment, and gave me the hope I needed to face the next day.
After I completed treatment, the healing process was long and hard. During this time, I learned how important it was to be patient with myself. I tried not to look at the calendar. I began to feel better every day. Eating became easier, the pain went away, and I slowly regained both my weight and strength. I have been fortunate that, almost 2 years from the date I was diagnosed, I am healthy and happy. Even though I have recovered, whenever I have routine appointments, I still feel doubt and worry creep back in. Although this feeling of occasional fear might never go away, I try to fully focus on the things I can control and worry less about the things I cannot control.
All that I went through has definitely changed my life. For instance, I know what is important to me, my priorities are clear. Spending my life with the ones I love is a gift, and it is not always guaranteed. Now, I never forget what life is really about: Family and friends—the people that I love. The rest is immaterial. I consciously try to focus my energy on making a positive impact on those around me. I am no longer stressed out over things like work, nor do I lose patience with others over irrelevant issues. I see every situation with a sense of optimism and happiness.
If there is one thing I can share with patients who are starting treatment, it would be to never forget this: it is a rough road, but one you can and will pass! As tough as my fight with cancer was, it showed me what an amazing world we live in. It truly showed me how many incredibly talented and kind people (family, friends, physicians) are around me doing great things.
Will You Share Your Journey?
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. As part of that theme, we post stories written by oral cancer survivors, caregivers and medical professionals for our 30 Stories in 30 Days™ campaign. The insights they share can help others along their journey.