A Cancer Survivor Shares: Howard’s Story

In early April 2009 I first noticed a lesion on the floor of my mouth midway between the base of my tongue and my front teeth. I was 65-years-old and had enjoyed exceptionally good health which allowed me to avoid medical doctors like the plague because they scared me. I had, however, recently been diagnosed with high blood pressure and was taking medications for it. A couple of weeks after the lesion appeared I had to go to see my family doc who runs a minor emergency med clinic to get my prescriptions refilled. I mentioned the lesion to him since it was not getting any better; he suggested I go see an ear nose and throat (ENT) specialist. I went home and called a doc he had mentioned and was told I could not be seen by the doc for about one month, but could see the physician’s sssistant in two weeks, so I scheduled with the PA. During my appointment, the PA looked at the lesion and looked in my ears and did not say anything about the lesion, but did recommend that I return to have my ears cleaned and undergo a hearing test. What a relief. I went back for the follow up and was told I should come back in a year.

I had also been having trouble with a broken jaw tooth on my lower jaw that had abscessed a couple of times. I noticed some enlargement of the lymph nodes in my neck on that side so I figured I was going to be in for another round of antibiotics. I am scared of dentists also, but I summoned the courage to call one and got in rather quickly. This appointment was about one month after I saw the PA. During the exam the dentist noticed the lesion and questioned me about it, and asked if I would mind if he got me an appointment with an oral surgeon that afternoon.

”I feel the treatment of cancer… should be provided by a multidisciplinary team that includes members of the psychological community who can provide stress management training and teach cognitive behavior therapy.”

I saw the oral surgeon and he said he wanted to biopsy the lesion but was more concerned about a growth on the right side of my face so he biopsied that also. To make a long story short, both were cancerous. A short time later I got a call from the ENT doc whose PA I had seen and his nurse requested that I come in to see him that day if possible. He had gotten the results of my tests, and during the course of his exam noticed the swelling of the lymph nodes and biopsied them. He also scheduled me for a CT scan of the jaw at the local hospital and said I would need follow-up “…at the university level.” He asked if I wanted to go to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston or LSU Health Sciences Center in Shreveport. I chose the latter because it is close to home.

I went to my local hospital for the CT scan, and during the exam much of the contrast ran out onto my back rather than where it was supposed to go. I alerted the technician and I don’t know if it was because it was late in the day or what but she was not concerned. I returned to the ENT doc who said the results of the biopsy were negative and they couldn’t tell much from the CT scan because of the problems with the contrast. He did, however, schedule me to see a doctor at LSU, who said after examining my lymph nodes that she was almost certain the cancer had spread. On July 17, 2009 I underwent a floor of mouth resection that was quite an experience to say the least. I came out with my tongue tethered to the bottom of my mouth and without most of my teeth. My training is in clinical psychology and for the past ten years I had been performing psychological exams on disability applicants for the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, so the initial speech impairment seemed to pose a major problem for my career.

The next step in treatment was to undergo chemo and radiation treatments. There were no real problems with chemo other than a thinning of my beard, but the radiation was difficult and left me tired and I still have a great deal of scarring in my throat. The care provided by the medical folks who treated me has been outstanding. They were very upfront about my condition and took extra time to answer any questions my wife or I had. I also have to praise my wife for stepping up and managing everything at home, including managing doctor’s appointments, all the financial issues, tube feeding me three times a day, etc. It has been a very stressful time for everyone concerned, but we are doing well.

By December 2009 my speech cleared up significantly and I had regained my strength to the point that I could return to work. I continue to see my doctors for regular follow up, and my last PET scan in July 2010 showed no abnormalities which gave me a big case of happy feet. I have had outstanding medical care following the early miscues, but I do feel that the treatment of cancer and other major illnesses should be provided by a multidisciplinary team that includes members of the psychological community who can provide stress management training and teach cognitive behavior therapy.

One other very important area that probably needs to be emphasized is providing care for the caregiver. I believe that my tour of duty in Vietnam in 1969-70 and this bout with cancer were more stressful for my wife than for me, but she has never even sought out the appropriate support groups. An excellent resource for anyone interested in psychological self-help is www.getselfhelp.co.uk. The website contains an in-depth cognitive behavior therapy self-help program. I recommend it highly.

My name is Howard Patterson. I am 68 years-old and am a one-and-one-half-year survivor of oral cancer.

Category: Survivor Stories

Tags: acid environment, Breast Cancer, cancer, Caregivers, complex carbohydrates, diet, hormone-related cancers, oncology nutrtition, organic foods, plant-based diet, soy food, sugar