October 13, 2016
Throat cancer survivor: The good, the bad and the ugly of treatment
BY Damion Smith
After seven chemotherapy cycles and 35 days of radiation, I sat in my bedroom thinking about what words best described my seven-week treatment journey for throat cancer. I decided the movie title “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” summed it up best.
The bad of my throat cancer treatment
There are absolutely no words that can describe being diagnosed with cancer. Shocked, scared, angry — none of these can explain that feeling of finding out you have cancer. So many thoughts race through your mind that you really need days to process it all.
I cried, laughed and allowed my family and friends to support me. This made a huge difference for me, so do whatever you need to do to gear up for the fight.
The ugly of my throat cancer treatment
Make no mistake: cancer treatment can be rough, and it can be both a physical and emotional rollercoaster. It can drain you. I know it drained me.
But that’s not the only ugly part. The side effects are, too. I was initially really afraid of doing chemo. But through my seven chemo treatments, I had very few side effects. The only ones I noticed were the slight nausea and the metallic taste that chemo can leave in your mouth.
The radiation had a cumulative effect on my body. I didn’t experience any side effects until about the fourth week of treatment when I began having trouble swallowing. Then came the sore throat, and shortly after that, the radiation began to break down my skin in the treatment area. Not to mention, I lost my voice again because of the swelling from treatment.
The good thing about the "ugly" is that my MD Anderson care team had told me what was likely to happen and when it would likely happen, so I felt prepared when these side effects came up.
The good of my throat cancer treatment
This is the most difficult part for me because I feel so indebted to my cancer team. My doctors, Adam Garden, M.D., and George Blumenschein, M.D., have been amazing. For Dr. Garden to remember my mom and wife while passing them in the hallway was big for me. He recognized them first and initiated the conversation. This man sees patient after patient, and for him to remember my family is something I will never forget.
As big as MD Anderson is, it really felt like down-home personal care, and from talking to other patients, I know they felt the same.
The nursing staff in Head and Neck Center, my dietitians and my radiation therapists all somehow made me feel like I was the only person who mattered when they saw me. They helped me relax when I was unsure about what I was about to endure and compelled me to take ownership of my care. They took the time to get to know me on a personal level and provide me with the best care possible, so I felt like I owed it to them to not waste their time. I felt I needed to listen to them and do what they say in order to get better.
I am prayerfully on my way to a speedy and cancer-free recovery. There is so much more I could say about the “good” of my throat cancer experience, but I will end with this: If you want to see countless daily expressions of love, care, passion and dedication, walk the halls of MD Anderson. You will see it in the eyes of patients, caregivers and most of all, MD Anderson’s staff.
If you want to see countless daily expressions of love, care, passion and dedication, walk the halls of MD Anderson.