HPV Throat Cancer

Getting Diagnosed with Throat Cancer

Every year, twice a year, my husband goes to the doctor for cold symptoms. Half the time, it is a cold, the other half of the time; it’s an allergic reaction to dust and pollen. In mid-November, right on schedule, my husband developed a sore throat, cough and noticed that he was coughing up phlegm every morning, which he never does.

We made an appointment with our General Practitioners office, and by the day he actually got to see the Nurse Practitioner, Sue Rose, his sore throat had gone away. However, he was still coughing up phlegm and his lymph nodes were swollen on the sides of his neck.

Swollen lymph nodes often occur during colds and flu, as the lymph nodes are the filtering system for the body. She prescribed a ten-day antibiotic. After the ten days were over, he was still coughing and went back to the doctor. His lymph nodes were still swollen and it was at this point that she mentioned throat cancer and recommended that he see an ENT - Ear, Nose and Throat doctor, officially known as a otolaryngologist. She also arranged for a blood test and a chest x-ray.

We were already familiar with the ENT practice she recommended. It was the same practice she sent me to when I had an enlarged thyroid. While she recommended a different doctor at the practice, I’d spent enough time in their waiting rooms talking to other patients to feel comfortable that this group of doctors knew what they were doing.

Dr. Ginsburg stuck a scope down my husband’s throat, (laryngoscopy,) and didn’t see anything. He arranged for a CT scan with contrast and after getting the results from this, a needle biopsy. Both tests were inconclusive.

So, it was off to the hospital for a PET scan. When the PET scan results came back to the doctor, he told my husband to call his office to arrange for a surgical biopsy, where they would actually remove a lymph node and send it off to a lab for analysis.

On Thursday, December 15th, he had a surgical biopsy, (an outpatient procedure,) at a private clinic. It took them two hours to remove the lymph node and an hour and a half for him to recover enough for me to see him. I sat with him for another hour before they said my husband was okay enough to go home. They gave him a several days worth of percocets for pain. He had a three-inch scar on a fold of his neck, which healed extremely well. We were in at 9AM and out by 2PM.

Hubby was due to go back to work on Tuesday, but we got a phone call on Monday, December 19th that pretty much changed our lives. We knew it was really bad news when Dr. Ginsburg asked both of us to get on the phone.

He told us that my husband had squamous cell carcinoma. He had thought that this would be a simple lymphoma. And by simple, I mean that lymphoma is so common that the treatment protocols have been tested time and time again. If Hubby had lymphoma, Dr. Ginsburg would have remained our primary doctor for this and my husband would have been treated at the local hospital, which is a hop, skip and a jump from our house.

He also said that he was so floored by the test results, he made them go back and check the name on the slide to make sure that these were Hubby’s results.

Because of the diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma, he wanted to send Hubby to a specialist in that type of throat cancer. We went in to see him the next day and we had a list of four doctors. Two of them took our insurance and two of them didn’t, so that instantly narrowed down the field.

This is when I experienced for the first time what I call “doctor’s recommendation syndrome.” Contrary to popular opinion, doctors don’t tell you what to do. They can only make recommendations and hope that their patients act on their suggestions. He specifically recommended a doctor to us. And, although he was going to go on vacation, he would check into his office everyday, and make the phone call to get us in to see the specialist in New York that he recommended, as soon as possible, if we chose to see him.

We researched the two doctors, one in our home state of New Jersey and one in New York. While both were excellent doctors, patient comments on RateMDs.com consistently said that the New York doctor took time with his patients, talked to them, answered their questions, and in general listened to them.

So, our decision was easily made, even though the commute into and out of New York was going to be a hassle.

As we were arranging a specialist to work on Hubby’s cancer, we also made an appointment to see a dentist. A number of cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy loose their teeth not only due to the radiation but also due to pre-existing dental problems. The time to take care of your teeth – fillings, extractions and gum disease, is BEFORE you start cancer treatments.

This is the beginning of my Husband’s throat cancer story. What I can’t communicate to you is the amount of fear we felt during the diagnosis stage of process.

And when I say fear, I mean mind numbing, over-whelming fear. Hubby was a perfectly healthy, active male one day, and a person who had a 50 / 50 chance of surviving the next. Everything in our lives would be filtered through the specter of throat cancer, survival rates, cancer treatments and his recovery for the foreseeable future.

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