Throat cancer survivor: 5 things I love about MD Anderson
Cancer runs in my family. My mom alone has lost three of her sisters to the disease. So, when I heard a doctor tell me, “You have throat cancer,” I just went numb.
But I’m a pragmatist. So, once my mind got a handle on that, I asked the doctor about my prognosis. At first, he paused, and my heart dropped into my feet. But then he said my prognosis was excellent, because we’d caught the cancer fairly early and I’d never been a smoker or a drinker. That made me feel much more positive about my situation.
Once I got to MD Anderson, I started feeling even better. Here are five reasons why.
1. Expertise and confidence reduced my anxiety about throat cancer treatment
I didn’t know a soul when I arrived at MD Anderson’sHead and Neck Center. But while I was in the waiting room, another patient started talking to me. He asked me who my radiation oncologist was. When I told him it was Dr. Adam Garden, he said, “Oh, my God! They gave you the best! He is world-renowned.” That reassured me I was in good hands.
I felt even better after actually meeting with my team, which included head and neck surgeon Dr. Neil Gross and head and neck medical oncologist Dr. Renata Ferrarotto. At some point, Dr. Garden’s nurse, Gary Sheppard, turned to me and said, “Look. We are not treating you for a cancer. We are treating you for a cure.” That gave me a definite sense of relief.
2. Medication minimized my chemotherapy side effects
Most of the cancer stories I’d heard from friends and relatives involved side effects from chemotherapy. But some of the people who’d told me these stories were diagnosed more than 20 years ago, when cancer treatments were nowhere near what they are now. Still, I was a little worried when my own doctors prescribed chemotherapy. I didn’t know how my body would react.
As it turns out, I didn’t need to worry. I made it through chemotherapy just fine, because MD Anderson does such a wonderful job of managing side effects. The first few hours of each infusion I got were just to deliver the medicines that would prevent nausea and vomiting. So, I may have felt a little queasy from time to time, but I never threw up. It was nothing like I’d feared it would be. In fact, I gained about 40 pounds, because the steroids I was on made me hungry all the time.
3. Physical therapy preserved my ability to swallow during throat cancer treatment
MD Anderson does a really good job of preventing side effects, too. After finishing chemotherapy, I was prescribed 33 rounds of radiation therapy. That can cause the muscles in the head and neck to tighten up, as well as other side effects. A speech pathologist showed me exercises I could do to preserve my swallowing function.
I’d never really had problems with swallowing before, even when I still had throat cancer. But I did all the exercises she showed me as directed.
4. Simple strategies are helping me overcome lingering food issues
These days, my mouth doesn’t produce as much saliva as it should, so I have to be careful to take small bites. I also have to chew my food thoroughly and drink lots of water at meals. But the texture of some foods is what gives me the most trouble.
Bread turns into a paste in my mouth. Cookies are hard to eat, too. They taste fine, but once they crumble, they just kind of stay that way. There’s not enough moisture in my mouth to break them down properly.
Fortunately, I’ve been working with dietician Patricia Rosemond ever since I had a temporary feeding tube installed during treatment. She’s given me practical advice at every turn. Take bread, for instance. I really like it and I missed eating it. So, she recommended I toast it. And just that small change made a huge difference.
5. Personalized attention made me feel appreciated
The thing I like most about MD Anderson is that I always felt like my doctors knew me personally. I was not just a number to them. And that applies to everyone there: from the nurses and the technicians to the receptionists and the custodians. MD Anderson is easily one of the most welcoming places I've ever spent time.
It’s also pretty special in that you have an entire team of experts who discuss your case and work together to determine what’s best for you. You're not just being passed along to someone else whose answer to every question is, “I don't know.” They reassure you they know what they are doing at every step, and that you will receive the best possible treatment, so that you can enjoy the best possible results.