MD Anderson’s optimism and salivary gland cancer expertise gave me hope
The first thing that impressed me was how positive MD Anderson’s doctors are, while still being honest.
I’d noticed a little knot at the base of my tongue while having some fillings replaced. It was only about the size of a pea. But I got it looked at right away. The local ENT who diagnosed me with squamous cell carcinoma said it had already spread to nearby tissues. The tumor wasn’t very big. But it was invasive enough that he said doing surgery first would be debilitating. That was pretty scary. He suggested I go to MD Anderson.
When I met with head and neck surgeon Dr. Amy Hessel at MD Anderson, she was so encouraging and confident. So were medical oncologist Dr. Xiuning Le and radiation oncologist Dr. Jay Reddy. They insisted my cancer could be cured with a combination of other treatments, or that they could shrink the tumor enough that it could be surgically removed.
It turns out they were right.
MD Anderson’s team approach was even more impressive
What impressed me even more was MD Anderson’s holistic approach to cancer treatment. My care team sought to improve every aspect of my life — not just cure the cancer. And they plan for success right from the get-go.
I visited with experts in lymphedema, swallowing and other specialties at MD Anderson’sHead and Neck Center before even starting my treatment. My doctors there fully expected me to live for years after completing it, so they wanted to do everything possible to preserve my ability to function normally.
Sometimes, I would ask why I was seeing a dentist, audiologist or speech therapist for an oral cancer, and they would explain how a particular treatment might affect me and what they were doing to manage it.
Dr. Hessel even referred me to an MD Anderson dermatologist to make sure a little brown spot on my forehead wasn’t malignant. I told her I was already getting my skin checked pretty regularly by a local doctor. But she said, “Look: I’m not curing you of oral cancer only to turn around and have you die of skin cancer. I want you to see one of ours.”
MD Anderson sent me to one of its urologists, too, when it came time to have sex after finishing my cancer treatment, and I discovered my plumbing wasn’t up to the task. He got things back on track.
MD Anderson audiologists also found that the total hearing loss in my left ear — which I’d always thought was from too much loud music and heavy machinery — was actually something I was born with. They corrected the slight hearing loss I had in my right ear with a hearing aid, too. So, I’m better off now than I was before I had cancer.
Team of experts makes all the difference
A lot of places don’t think about things like that. Or, patients are expected to go out and find a specialist themselves to address particular issues. At MD Anderson, they’re all under one roof. And they think about your situation from every angle.
I’m retired now, but I spent my career leading large teams in university facilities management. I was blown away by how everyone comes together as a team at MD Anderson. Even with the really small stuff, like waiting for an elevator, MD Anderson shines. You’ll never get on an elevator after anyone wearing scrubs or a white coat there because they stand aside and let patients board first. That level of customer service would make anyone proud.
My life after completing salivary gland cancer treatment
Fatigue and oral mucositis were the worst of my side effects. But I’m almost back to normal now. I did the stretching and swallowing exercises my physical therapists gave me, so I can still eat whatever I want, as long as I drink water.
That’s why I tell everyone to go to MD Anderson now.
Hearing that you have cancer can be overwhelming. But take a deep breath. Then, do whatever it takes to get to MD Anderson. Because if you’re there, you can trust that you’re at the absolute best there is.