Getting ready for a spinning class in February 2016, Don Childress noticed a large knot below his right ear that looked like a bee sting.
Childress, then 67, otherwise had no medical issues but decided to have it checked out by a doctor. An infectious disease specialist in his hometown of Atlanta diagnosed an infected salivary gland, gave him antibiotics and told him he’d be asymptomatic in two to three weeks.
When the swelling had not gone away, Childress went to an ear, nose and throat specialist, who found suspicious cells. He referred him to a local hospital, where it was determined that Childress had squamous cell carcinoma.
Wanting a second opinion, Childress turned to MD Anderson Cancer Center, where doctors confirmed the diagnosis.
"The moment I met the team, I knew that MD Anderson was the right place for me," says Childress. "From the gracefulness, care and kindness to the competency and bedside manner, it was where I needed to be."
At his doctors’ suggestion, Childress decided on a treatment proven to eradicate the cancer in up to 90% of cases. Treatments would be vigorous and brutal, with side effects that could permanently deteriorate his taste buds and leave him with a persistent dry mouth. But with six children and six grandchildren, and another on the way, he and his wife, Sidney, both felt compelled to give it a try.
While Childress still can distinguish tart and spicy foods, he is burdened with a dry mouth that limits what he is able to eat.
Childress learned of Skinner’s efforts to increase cure rates and decrease side effects for head and neck cancer patients by seeking new types of drugs to use in combination with radiation treatment. Toward that goal, he and his wife donated $250,000 to Skinner’s research.
"Radiation for head and neck cancer patients can lead to damage to many organs including the salivary glands, voice box and lining of the mouth, and we want to identify ways to decrease such side effects," Skinner says. "Don and Sidney’s generous donation will help us focus on finding drugs that improve the effectiveness of radiotherapy."