Michael West

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

Michael, married and a proud father of two children, lives in San Diego, California, and is a litigation trial attorney for a national firm.

While shaving one morning, he felt a small lump on the side of his throat. He and his wife thought it was either a cyst or his lymph nodes were merely swollen, due to fighting off a cold. He had no other symptoms and, at the age of 49, was in great shape, exercising six times a week. Normally, he would not have thought much about the lump and would have just brushed the matter off since he is a non-smoker and in seemingly excellent health. However, he began to worry because the lump was near his lymph nodes.

He soon visited his primary care physician and was referred to a specialist. After a series of exams, biopsies, and scans, Michael was diagnosed with HPV-attributed (Type 16) Throat Cancer.

“I was very fortunate that I visited the doctor early because, although my doctors said the cancer had most likely been growing in me for at least a year, it had only spread to my lymph nodes and had not yet gone to other parts of my body,” explained Michael.

He had surgery to remove his tonsils and small parts of his tongue and throat. He then underwent 35 radiation treatments over seven weeks, in addition to receiving three doses of the commonly referred to “super chemo”, cisplatin.

It was a brutal journey physically, mentally and spiritually for Michael as his body was ravaged from the cumulative effects of the treatments. He experienced incredible fatigue, lost his sense of taste, developed dry mouth due to radiation damage to his salivary glands, and experienced indescribable pain despite being on the heaviest of pain medications. He had so many sores develop in his mouth and throat that he eventually could not even swallow his own spit.

By the end of this treatments, he had lost 65 pounds and was kept alive, for several months, by receiving food, through a feeding tube that was surgically installed in his stomach. He was admitted to the hospital for several days, following his last treatment on December 6, 2017 due to his declining condition.

Following treatment, the next several months were grueling physically and mentally, and he simply never thought that his condition would improve.

“In the beginning of my recovery, I hurt so badly that I did not feel I had accomplished anything by finishing treatment. However, through the support and love of those around me and through my unwavering faith in God, I learned that I had accomplished something incredible – I had survived the treatments, and I had the chance to go on with my life,” said Michael. “I then adjusted my focus to literally making it about just making it to the end of each day, thanking God that I made it back to my bed each night, and praying like crazy that somehow, someway tomorrow would be better.”

At an excruciatingly slow pace, his body began to gradually respond. The sores in his mouth and throat eventually went away, his medications were stopped, he found himself pain-free with his energy level increased as he started to adjust to being a part of the world again.

“I was absolutely scared while going through treatment, but I’m grateful to all the cancer survivors who are there to provide living proof that it is possible to beat cancer, and to let me know that I did have it inside me to overcome this challenge,” added Michael.

Part of his mission now is to connect with those brave warriors who are still fighting cancer and to let them know that no matter how difficult it is, it can be done.

“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.

He is also raising awareness for HPV, especially in men, with the hope of saving lives through early detection: “You can feel great as I did and still be walking around with Stage IV cancer, so watch out for anything that can give you a sign that something is not right with your body.”

As a survivor of HPV-attributed cancer, he will have both his son and daughter vaccinated for the virus and strongly recommends other parents do so.

“If I can save even one person from ever having to go through what I did, then coming forward with my story is worth it.”

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