Ambassador Profiles

The HNCA Ambassadors are dedicated to educating the community-at-large about these cancers. Our ambassadors are cancer patients, survivors and/or caregivers whose inspirational journeys give true meaning to what happens when you are diagnosed with cancer, during and post-treatment.

If your organization is hosting an event, conducting research on patient journeys or designing clinical protocols, contact HNCA at or fill the online request form to inquire about our HNCA Ambassadors’ potential involvement.

Cancer Survivor Ambassadors

Thomas Bennett

Husband & Father
Owner & Operator of Bennett & Associates
Survivor of HPV-attributed Throat Cancer
Mount Pleasant, SC

“I was by myself that day as my wife was visiting our daughter at college. I walked out of the hospital in shock. I asked myself “Why me?” and “What did I do?” He called his wife from the car and told her the bad news.
“I cried. I felt alone. But believe it or not, that may have been the emotionally worst part… processing the cancer diagnosis alone.”

Itzhak Brook, M.D. Msc.

Physician and Professor of Pediatrics, Georgetown University School of Medicine and HNCA Board Member
Survivor of Throat Cancer
Washington, DC

As a head and neck cancer survivor and a laryngectomee, Dr. Brook feels great satisfaction that his personal experience enables him to help other survivors to speak again and lead a full and satisfying life.

Stephan Cassidy

Occupation – Veteran
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue Cancer
Lutz, FL

After months back and forth, he had a “feeling” something still wasn’t right. He went back to his physician and was then scheduled for a CAT scan. Only 45 minutes after the scan, Stephan was driving home and received a call, requesting him to drive directly to the ENT clinic. He knew then that his life had forever changed.

Hank Deneski

Husband & Father
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue Cancer
Union, OH

“Hank” Deneski, a 14-year survivor of stage IV inoperable squamous cell carcinoma at the base of tongue, has an urgent message for others diagnosed with oral, head and neck cancer: “Take control, or be controlled.”

Ryan Gainor

Lawyer & Husband
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue Cancer
Rhode Island

“My cancer journey is not a sad story. I still struggle some days, and the months after my diagnosis were the most trying, difficult, and painful of my life. But my medical team was amazing. My community took care of me. And upon reflection, I have fond memories of the strong friendships I have and the power of family. Friends from around the country came to our house to spend time with me,” said Ryan. “We still talk about those days, and the good times we had in spite of what was going on. But in the end, I was extremely fortunate to receive my diagnosis when I did.”

Steve Holzer

Executive Television Producer/Journalist
Survivor of HPV-attributed Tongue and Neck Cancer
West Hollywood, CA

“Everything moved very fast, because I knew it had to move fast. I was fitted for the radiation mask that I would wear every day during treatment,” explained Steve. “My first radiation treatment was exactly two weeks later. The chemotherapy was once a week, which I did on Tuesdays immediately after radiation. I called them Double Treatment Tuesdays.”

Gail Jackson

Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer
Rehoboth Beach, DE

“Eating has been a challenge with the reconfiguration of my throat, and my taste and swallowing is altered. I see my medical team every three months. My last scan was good, and I continue to be grateful and prayerful for continued good news.”

Laura Kadetsky

Spouse & Mother
Nonprofit Executive & Attorney, currently Chief Administrative Officer & General Counsel, New Leaders
Three-time Survivor of Tongue Cancer
Chevy Chase, MD

No one knew why she got tongue cancer. Laura had never smoked a cigarette and wasn’t a heavy drinker. The tumor was not HPV positive. She was young and female. There were assumptions that other health conditions or medicines she had taken might have contributed to it, but in the end, nothing was certain. Because of her apparently low-risk profile, Laura moved forward by considering each of these events to be one-time flukes that were now behind her.

Ed King

Husband & Father
Partner in a company developing infectious disease diagnostics including a Head and Neck Cancer rapid test
Stage 4 Tongue and Neck Cancer, HPV Negative
Windsor, CO

In August 2014, Ed was diagnosed with squamous cell tongue cancer. Earlier in the month, he noticed a bump on the tip of his tongue that didn’t go away. Cancer was totally unsuspected, either by his family physician or his initial ENT. However, the lab test told a different story.

Tony Langford

Certified Public Accountant, Husband & Father
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue and Tonsil Cancer
Lake in the Hills, IL

“I could not have made it through as well as I did without my wife being with me each and every step of the way through this unwanted journey,” explained Tony. “We were carried along by so many others. We have such a deeper sense of appreciation and love for so many, especially for our parents, our brothers, and their families, along with many friends and our church community.”

Gary Lazarz

Husband & Father
Manufacturing Salesman
Survivor of Stage II HPV-Attributed Throat Cancer
Dacula, GA

“I was able to do this through prayer, stubbornness, and humor. It all really helped keep my attitude positive and my head in the right frame of mind,” explained Gary. “Look, cancer sucks. It’s scary, but it can be beaten. Ninety percent of what it takes to beat it is in one’s mind.”

Melvin LeBlanc

Husband & Father
Global HSSE Learning Advisor at Shell Oil Company
Survivor of Head and Neck Cancer
Houston, TX

“Between the time of diagnosis and treatment, I remained patient and continued to seek spiritual guidance. I acknowledged to myself, family and friends that God knew this to be in my life’s decree, that this happened to me for a reason and at the time prescribed (58 years old). I relied on God to give me the resolve to accept this cancer decree and that He would not give me a burden or situation beyond my capacity to handle and to get through it.”

Thad Lurie

Husband & Father
Vice President, Business Intelligence
Survivor of Stage 2/3 HPV-attributed Oropharyngeal Cancer
Broomfield, CO

“I’m not sure how long I sat and stared at those words, malignancy and metastatic, unable to truly accept what they meant,” expressed Thad. “I started crying, and I called to my wife – she read the report, and then we fell apart. You can try to prepare for something like this, but no matter how much reading you do, the actual experience is something completely outside your realm of understanding.”

Stewart Lyman, Ph.D.

Cancer Researcher and Biotechnology Consultant
Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer
Seattle, WA

“Take it from me: cancer prevention is always preferable to cancer treatment. As I’ve transitioned from cancer researcher to cancer patient to cancer survivor, I vow to make every effort to keep others from joining my club,” explained Stewart.

Jason Mendelsohn

Father, President of Ashar Group, LLC
Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer
Maitland, FL

Jason made the decision to share his cancer story publicly so that others could learn about HPV oropharyngeal cancer, oral cancer screening, and the HPV vaccine. He is fueled to educate parents about the HPV vaccine and about oral cancer screenings so that one day no parent will ever have to make a video similar to the ones he made for his kids back in 2014.

Mike Metzler

Husband & Retired Professor, Georgia State University
Survivor of Stage 4 Mucoepidermoidal Tongue Cancer
Decatur, GA

“With all the good things I have to live for, it has been well worth it. That’s the story I tell in the book and to every cancer patient and caregiver I meet. Don’t spend your time dwelling on what cancer has taken away from your life—spend your time enjoying the many good things you still have in your life.”

Christopher Nolan

Husband, Father & Grandfather
Survivor of HPV-Attributed Tongue Cancer
Fort Worth, TX

“It was by far the hardest thing I have ever done, but my faith and fitness level were huge benefits,” explained Chris. “I am now a proud 7-year survivor.”

Tina O’Dell

Mother, Marine & Fighter
Survivor of HPV-Attributed Stage III Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck
Columbus, IN

“I had no idea that HPV could cause head and neck cancer,” added Tina. “I am an advocate for everyone I know. I don’t want them to experience what I and my family experienced because we did not know about this sexually transmitted virus.”

Paul Reitano

Husband & Father
Professional Photographer
Survivor of Stage III HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer
Leeds, MA

He regards his success as a direct result of getting the best possible care at Fox Chase. “I cannot stress this enough: when you are diagnosed with cancer, GO TO A CANCER HOSPITAL!” he urges. “After that, go to another cancer hospital for a second opinion. This can literally mean the difference between life and death, or the quality of your life post-treatment.”

Jacki Rogozinski

Healthcare Sales & Marketing Professional
Survivor of Stage IV Oral Cancer
Austin, TX

At the same time, she felt she’d dodged a bullet, and also wondered “Why me?” She was told tobacco use was the major risk factor; she had never been a smoker and despised the habit. Nor had her cancer been identified as HPV-attributed. Why had this cancer found her?

Angie Rush

Proud Mother & Wife
Survivor of Stage IV Tongue Cancer
Boca Raton, MD

“Even with all of my daily reminders of what this disease has done to me, the permanent reminders, the scars that anyone can see. I remind myself, even on the bad dark days that I fought this horrible disease and I will always fight for the rest of my days.”

Ken Solomon

Father, Interior Designer
Survivor of Tongue Cancer
Boca Raton, FL

The negative side effects of his treatments have either lessened or disappeared. However, a few remain, and Ken deals with them on a daily basis, which he says is “not too difficult given the alternative.” He still receives weekly lymphedema occupational therapy and will continue to do so as long as possible as it is incredibly helpful.

Ada Valdes

Mother, IT Project Manager/Beekeeper
Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer
Miami, Fl

“I firmly believe that bee was a Godsend, and I credit it for saving my life. Like bees working together towards a sweet and positive end, my ‘hive’ of family and friends provided love, prayers, flowers, and plenty of soup. Each day was one day closer towards reaching the finish line. My subsequent PET scan came back clear,” explained Ada.

Michael West

Husband & Father
Litigation Attorney
Survivor of HPV-attributed Stage IV Throat Cancer
San Diego, CA

“Don’t give up, just keep looking forward. Don’t let cancer be your story, but let it be the catalyst for a transformation into a better you,” encourages Michael.

Anthony White

Chief Patient Experience Office
Survivor of Stage IV Metastatic Head and Neck Cancer
Redondo Beach, CA

When faced with navigating an intensive course of more 370 hours of in-patient chemotherapy, 40 radiation treatments, and six surgical procedures on his journey towards wellness, Anthony mustered his strength, persevered, and a new life path awaited him.

Caregiver Ambassadors

Julie Bockoff

Patient Caregiver, Stage IV Tonsil Cancer Patient
Detroit, MI

“Watching someone you love battle cancer is scary and heartbreaking. Dealing with it from 3,000 miles away is awful. My best friend lives in Las Vegas, and I live in Detroit,” explained Julie. “After three weeks of treatment, his voice was gone, and his throat was too sore to talk on the phone. Not being able to see him or talk to him while he was going through treatment was excruciating.”

Kristi Mason

Mother, Wife & Caregiver
Caregiver to Husband, Stage III Throat Cancer Patient
Derry, NH

“I was running an apothecary out of my kitchen, brought on by the nausea of chemo and the third degree burns on both sides of my husband’s neck from the aggressive radiation,” explained Kristi. “To keep track of all the medicines, I would line each one up on our counter with a clipboard under each that highlighted instructions on when to take it and to jot down the day and time he took it. It was the only way I could keep track of everything.”

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I believe that my success as a cancer patient is first due to the process of recognition on a basic level, that something in my body was not the same as it was and I was worse off.Jessica Tar
Singer, Songwriter, squamous cell carcinoma survivor & 2016 OHANCAW® Spokesperson

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