It started with a sore throat. Brian German, 44, assumed he'd picked it up from one of his three children. But when it persisted, Brian examined the back of his throat and saw something that didn’t look right – a very large tonsil.
His other symptoms were mild – difficulty swallowing, a raspy voice. He attributed them to a job where he spends most of his time talking. But when the problem persisted, Brian saw a doctor. After undergoing a tonsillectomy, Brian received an unexpected diagnosis: HPV-related stage II tonsil cancer.
“When you hear, ‘You have cancer,’ it’s kind of a devastating thing to go through,” Brian says. “Because I was so young, though, my initial reaction was worrying for my wife and my children.”
One of Brian’s biggest worries was his youngest son, Ethan, who is autistic. Although Brian describes him as “high functioning,” Ethan still lives in a world that is compartmentalized.
“As close as he is, he’s very far away,” Brian says. Any change in Ethan’s routine can be catastrophic for him. So Brian knew he’d have to maintain as much normalcy as possible during his tonsil cancer treatment. That meant doing his best to maintain his usual schedule. As long as Brian was doing the things he would normally be doing on a day-to-day basis, Ethan felt like his world hadn’t changed.
“I made sure to let him know in advance what days I would be at the hospital or doctor’s office, and how long I would be there,” Brian adds. This had a calming effect on Ethan.
Choosing TransOral Robotic Surgery for tonsil cancer treatment
Because he worried about debilitating long-term side effects that could impact his ability to take care of and provide for his family, Brian wanted to undergo surgery rather than radiation for his tonsil cancer treatment. But throat cancer lesions appeared at the back of the throat, an area that is difficult to access with traditional surgery.
Fortunately, another surgical solution was available: TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS), a procedure that uses robotics to give the surgeon better access to the back of the throat.
Brian first learned of TransOral Robotic Surgery while doing his own research. By the time his doctors presented his treatment options, he had already decided he wanted to proceed with the robotic surgery. For the TransOral Robotic Surgery treatment, Brian came to MD Anderson where Neil Gross, M.D., performed his surgery.
“Being from Houston, MD Anderson was my first and only choice to deal with my condition,” Brian says. “I knew that I would be dealing with an effective organization with many talented people who would give me the widest range of treatment options.”
Resolve to fight
Brian says learning he had tonsil cancer was initially a shock, but it also motivated him. “It was my responsibility as a father and husband to take care of my family,” he says. “No matter how bad or painful the treatment would be, I wanted it performed immediately to eradicate the disease. I wasn’t about to accept defeat and leave my family.”
Brian was clear on what needed to be done. “This is an intruder into your body and it needs to be gotten rid of,” he says. But just as important as resolve, he says, is having the information to make the right decisions.
“For everybody that’s going to deal with a diagnosis like this, it is a devastating thing,” Brian says. “But once you get that diagnosis, you’ve got be proactive. It’s your life after all.”