Head and Neck/Throat Cancer Videos - Greg P

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Watch as Greg P takes us through his journey with head and neck/throat cancer.

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Video Transcription

Head and Neck/Throat Cancer

My third experience with cancer was with head and neck cancer. After being clean from the Hodgkin's disease for over 18 years, I wake up one morning, find a sore spot behind my ear and I had thought at that time that it was Hodgkin's coming back, I go to the doctor, and start the process again, a needle biopsy of a swollen-up lymph node in my neck, and we find out that it's squamous cell carcinoma, head and neck cancer. I had a swollen, malignant tonsil that had started all this, which in turn it had spread into lymph nodes in the neck.

So the third go with cancer, is head and neck cancer this time, I guess I was fortunate enough to not have Hodgkin's a third time. I was told several years ago that if the Hodgkin's was to come back again it would be quite a bit harder to control the third time so maybe that was a- more of a lucky thing this time that at least it was a different type of cancer.

Treatment this time consisted of having a couple of operations. The lymph nodes were removed from my neck. The tonsil was taken out. I was given a radical neck dissection, which is a fairly major surgery to cut all of the lymph nodes out of the side of the neck that's involved. That was a fairly serious surgery, much more serious than I thought it would be, and I spent about a week in the hospital from- when they'd done the operation and recovery from it at home was at least a month before I could function anywhere near like I was able to before, quite a painful surgery.

Treatment this time: No chemotherapy involved but just radiation treatment. This time I was given 25 radiation treatments again, which is kind of uncommon, having radiation twice in the same area in a lifetime. Usually, that doesn't happen but since it had been about 20 years since I had had the radiation treatment before the doctors had thought that maybe I could go ahead and have it again, so they did give me the radiation treatment again. This time the side effects from the radiation were much worse than they were 20 some odd years ago, there- wasn't much nausea involved, severe burning of the area where the radiation hit. It kind of looked like I had a severe sunburn, skin dried up, wrinkly looking. Other side effects like the loss of saliva glands in the mouth caused me to have a dry mouth all the time, the- just being sleepy all the time, severe fatigue. Every day it seemed like about two o'clock I'd have to come home and take a nap; it just- it was a daily thing. The radiation really beat me down this time. The saliva glands drying up, being killed in the mouth, caused dryness in the mouth of course.

Then something that I hadn't been told that would happen was the saliva glands not working causes enzymes in the mouth to not be present, tooth decay starts, and one of the most serious side effects of this has been having to have extreme dental work done. I am in the process now of having all teeth removed due to the- just everything falling apart. The Teeth got brittle. Everything just went real, real quick, which is really surprising. Now another problem is a condition called osteoradionecrosis, which is a condition where if you have a tooth pulled and that socket doesn't heal it can cause necrosis of the jawbone since I've had radiation treatment on the jawbone twice in this period of time so the doctors have been extremely concerned for me to have any teeth pulled so we are still in the process of testing this to see if it can be done. It looks like all teeth can be pulled now so we're still in the middle of that.

So the side effects weren't near as bad this time as far as- compared to chemotherapy. The radiation was much worse this time than it was 20 years ago. I'll attribute that to being a little bit older maybe. Age 48, 50 is a whole lot harder on you than being 28 years old so that's probably what the biggest difference was.