When Mike went in to see his primary care physician for an annual physical in 2020, he was feeling proud of himself. “The last time I had been in, my doctor told me that I needed to lose weight. This time, I was going in 18 pounds lighter. I lost the weight over a two-week period. I knew it was fast, but I thought it was because I had been doing so much yardwork.”
During Mike’s exam, his doctor noticed swelling on the right side of his neck. “I thought I had a neck sprain from chopping wood,” Mike said. But Mike’s doctor suspected he had HPV throat cancer. He referred Mike to an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) doctor at the Cancer Center of Western Wisconsin (CCWW).
From fear to fight
After a biopsy, the ENT confirmed Mike had a tumor at the base of his tongue and that it was HPV cancer. “My first reaction was probably what everyone feels,” Mike said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, I have cancer! What is my wife going to do? Why me?’ But once I went through the cycle of emotions, I had a real sense of resolve. I decided I was going to beat it.”
Two battles to win the war
Mike began what would become his first round of treatment which involved 35 days of radiation and eight weeks of chemotherapy. A PET scan that followed indicated the cancer had gone into the lymph nodes in Mike’s armpit. A second round of treatment followed, which included 25 more days of radiation and chemo for six weeks.
“My survival rate was about 85%, which was positive, but the radiation was really, really hard,” Mike said. “My ENT told me I’d hit a brick wall, and you think ‘I’m strong, I’m healthy, I’ll be fine.’ But he was right. I hit a brick wall. I lost 60 pounds in four weeks. I was on a feeding tube and couldn’t even swallow water. The radiation on your neck causes so much swelling, and you get a severe, blistering sunburn. Fortunately, that healed once the radiation was over, and I was able to stop the feeding tube about a month or so later.”
A one-stop shop
“When you hear you have cancer, you want the best cancer specialists available,” Mike said. “Once I talked with my oncologist at CCWW, I never considered going anywhere else. I knew I was going to get best in class care,” Mike said. One thing that really sold Mike on CCWW was the ability to access radiation, oncology, bloodwork, speech therapy, nutrition services, and a pharmacy all at one location. “I knew I’d be weak from treatment, and I knew this was going to take a toll on my wife Jan,” Mike said. “She suffered as much as me, if not more. When I couldn’t drive, she had to drive through winter weather to get me to treatment. Knowing I could get everything in one day, close to home, was a big relief.”
“The staff is young and up on the latest research,” Mike added. “They’ve created these clinics where every detail has been carefully considered — and anticipated. I always felt like my health and wellbeing was everyone’s top concern at CCWW, down to the smallest details.”
Where you’re number one, no matter what
When Mike and Jan went to Florida after his treatment finished, Mike’s CCWW nutritionist would call him, even on weekends when she wasn’t working, to talk with Mike about his diet and to make sure he was getting the proper nutrients. Mike’s oncologist once called him while on vacation to discuss an important test result. “Everyone at CCWW went out of their way for the benefit of my health. They are truly my second family,” Mike said.
As of January 2022, Mike is cancer free, but the healing journey has been long. Mike’s love of food and cooking fell by the wayside as eating became a necessity rather than a pleasure. Initially, he could taste nothing, then everything tasted salty. Mike had to force himself to eat. But this past Thanksgiving, Mike made an apple pie. “It was a GREAT pie, and I could actually taste it!” Mike enthused. “I am so proud of being a cancer survivor and I’m so grateful for my wife, my family, and all the doctors and nurses at CCWW. I couldn’t have done this without their support. It took three years, but I’ve got my taste back and it’s sweet.”
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