Throat Cancer–My Own Story
Many of you are aware that I started off this year with a diagnosis of throat cancer, a large tumor the size of a lime – 2 inches by 3 inches, in my “right tonsillar fossa.” You may be interested in knowing the entire story, from beginning to where I am today. Here it is.
First of all, I was asymptomatic. This means that I had no symptoms such as soreness or a lump in my throat to indicate that there could be anything wrong. I did have a nasal drip which I finally decided to have checked out in February, 2010. My doctor, a very smart internist named Robert Neveln, immediately picked up that the problem in my throat was not a simple infection, but something far more serious.
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He immediately sent me to Dr. Mike Mahdavi, one of the finest Ear, Nose and Throat specialists in San Diego. Dr. Mahdavi took one look and told me that he was greatly concerned with the lesion in my throat. He immediately ordered an MRI, which is a full body machine that photographs every cell and tells you if you have cancer, where it is, and what size it is. The MRI scan confirmed that I had a large cancerous mass in my throat.
Not long after, Dr. Mahdavi did a biopsy, removing a part of the tumor for a pathology report. This report came back to tell me that indeed, I had a tumor and that it was a Stage II/III. In my case, the stage of the tumor referred to the size, which was quite large already, plus the possibility that it had spread to one lymph node.
As soon as it is confirmed that you have cancer, a team of specialists including a surgeon, a medical oncologist (chemo-therapist) and a radiation oncologist come together to work with you and for you to get you through the treatment process.
This is when you first hear the three words “standard of care.” There are standards of care for every different type of cancer, at every different phase, that have been developed over many years in conjunction with the treatment of many thousands of patients. By following the standards of care, the doctors achieve the highest possible success rate in the treatment of any cancer. And they never deviate from the “standard of care.”
After your cancer has been identified, they give you CT and PET scans, which photograph your cancer and locate it in incredible detail and with great precision. This enables them to give you treatment, including surgery and radiation, that is focused specifically on the cancerous area.
At this time you learn another expression, “cancer markers.” These have to do with the size of the tumor, the number of lymph nodes affected by the cancer, and the number of places to which the cancer has spread, called “metastasis.”
Fortunately for me, my markers were “T1, N1, M0,” which meant that I had a tumor with only one lymph node affected and no spreading to other parts of the body. This is very good news. This means that the cancer can be treated in a single place and the treatment has a much higher likelihood of success.
On April 13th, I began the process of chemotherapy. The first day of chemotherapy involves you sitting in my doctor’s office, Dr. Daejin Abidoye, for 8 hours while chemicals are dripped into your system. The process of chemotherapy today is very advanced. At one time, people would suffer incredible side effects, such as nausea, dizziness, constipation, fatigue and other things. But with the drugs that they give you during chemotherapy, they can counter almost all of these negative effects, either eliminating them or minimizing them.
After a full day of chemotherapy, I was required to wear a fanny pack containing a pump that injected a small amount of chemical into my system every 90 seconds, 24 hours a day. This meant that the chemotherapy session was actually six days.
Within a week or two, my hair started to fall out, which is quite common. My appetite diminished. My taste buds disappeared so that I could taste virtually nothing. Fortunately, I had decided that I would continue working throughout this process, no matter what happened, and that is just what I did. This decision was very helpful, as opposed to feeling sorry for myself and sitting at home recuperating.
As a professional speaker, I was able to continue my speaking engagements through April and May, all over the U.S., Canada and two full speaking tours of Europe for 3 and 4 days respectively.
In mid-May, I had my second chemotherapy session, with several more hours of receiving new drugs dripped into my system. A week later, I developed mucositis, which is what happens when the chemotherapy chemicals burn off the skin in the back of your mouth and throat, exposing the raw nerves and causing incredible pain and discomfort. By using pain killers, I was able to complete my speaking schedule before it got too bad for me to work.
On June 1st, I went back in for another CT/PET scan series to check the progress of my cancer. To my delight, and to the amazement of most of the professionals, my tumor had disappeared over seven weeks. It was gone completely. They could not find a trace of that huge tumor I had had in the back of my throat.
Some people say this was due to chemotherapy. Others say it was due to prayer or a positive attitude. I tried a variety of non-traditional methods during this process as well. It is impossible to say what caused my tumor to disappear, except that it was completely gone.
On June 7th, I had throat surgery by Dr. Mahdavi. This removed all of the scar tissue in my throat, which was also subjected to pathology studies and found to be cancer free. So far, I was making great progress.
Then I had to make the decision about radiation therapy. I had suffered limited side effects from chemotherapy but that would not be the case with radiation therapy. My doctor, Dr. David Hodgens, explained to me that it would be painful and difficult, beyond my ability to imagine.
I attended a throat cancer support group meeting where the survivors of throat cancer described the extremely painful side effects of radiation therapy on the throat. This can include sore throat, then inflamed throat, and finally your throat locks up and you can’t even swallow your own spit without great pain. The back of your throat is raw and burning beyond imagination. You need to take morphine-like pain killers constantly. You may need a feeding tube that goes into your stomach and into which you pump prepared liquids as often as possible. Mucous can erupt in your throat so effusively that you need a pump to get it out to stop from choking. You lose your taste buds and then your appetite. You lose 10-15 pounds, or even more. You get “dry mouth” from the radiation and chemotherapy burning out your salivary glands, causing your mouth to feel as dry as dust. This lasts for months afterward, and even years.
Like many throat cancer patients, I did not want to take radiation therapy. The pain and discomfort described by everyone who had been through it, including the doctor, were scary. I got a second opinion from Dr.Renee Penn, one of the top throat cancer specialists in America, at the City of Hope in Las Angeles. But every doctor I spoke to told me that the only way to guarantee that the cancer did not reoccur was to bombard the microscopic cells that may still be lurking in the throat where the cancer had once existed.
Reluctantly, but accepting their advice, I embarked upon six solid weeks, five days per week, of radiation therapy along with concurrent chemotherapy. I did this as an insurance policy because the very best chance to defeat the cancer is the first time it occurs. If it reoccurs for any reason, it becomes more and more difficult, and the treatment options are much more severe.
For six weeks, every week day, I dutifully went to radiation treatment. Once a week, I got more chemotherapy. The symptoms got worse and worse. My throat became extremely sore. Open sores developed in my mouth that made it painful to even drink water. I could no longer eat anything except for soups and smoothies. The pain was intense and required prescription painkillers throughout the day and night just to get by.
Radiation therapy is progressive. Each additional session is worse than the session before. The last few sessions are considerably worse than the first few. The side effects are more acute. But I had decided to “gut it out,” and so I did. By the end of the six weeks, the doctor told me that I had had enough. My treatment was within the “standards of care” for my particular type of cancer. It was complete. I could now go home and recuperate.
That was August 10th. In cancer treatment, your final day is a day that you never forget. During radiation treatment, you measure your life in terms of how many days you are away from that date.
The best news is that after a couple of weeks, my throat began to improve. By the end of August I was giving short talks for large seminar groups. On August 31st, I spoke for seven thousand people in Peoria, Illinois and got a standing ovation. My voice and my career were back!
It is now September of 2010. I am back on the road and speaking before large and small audiences, all over the country. I am booked through the end of the year in Europe and in Asia as well as throughout the United States and Canada. My voice is becoming stronger and stronger. As the sage once said, the four most important words in life, words that are always true, for every person, in every situation, are the words “this too shall pass.”
If you have cancer, remember that “this too shall pass.” Follow the advice of your doctors. The quality of cancer treatment in the United States is the best in the world, and the survivorship rates are the highest. The doctors who specialize in cancer have committed their lives to helping people survive cancer, no matter what they have.
Here is another point. As soon as I had cancer, I was deluged with alternative remedies that people claimed were miracle herbs and potions that would stop, eliminate, or reverse cancer. As I did more research, I found that every single alternative to the “standards of care” had been exhaustively tested in multiple universities and clinics and found to be ineffective. Once I realized that, I resigned myself to standard treatment, with all the pain and side effects, and simply trusted my doctors to take the best care of me, which they did.
A million people a year in the United States contract cancer of some kind. If you are one of them, you should know that you have the best treatment in the world available to you. If you are the friend or relative of a cancer patient, what they need more than anything else is your prayers and your support.
This has been an interesting experience for me, a major speed bump on the road of life. I have been into the valley and come back out of it on the other side into the sunlit uplands. Thank you for your prayers and support during this process. I am very grateful for your kind comments, cards, emails and phone calls. I wish you all the best.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.