Husband, Father, and 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.”
Hank, now a motivational speaker and trainer, is Founder of Western Ohio Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Support Programs and dedicates his time to coordinating five free oral cancer screenings every year as part of HNCA’s Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness® Program. Hank’s screenings are targeted to the uninsured/disadvantaged in WesternOhio.
Oral, head and neck cancers are often debilitating, and Hank refers to them as an “orphan” cancer because they are not as well publicized, like other cancers. Treatment, as he well knows, may result in disfiguring surgery, loss of the ability to eat or speak, and difficult, long-lasting side effects that result in a “new normal” in living.
Diagnosed in 2005, Hank’s ENT advised that surgery would be debilitating – removal of his tongue, esophagus, and voice box — creating a nearly-impossible recuperation. As a result, both chemotherapy and radiation were prescribed. During all of it, Hank never asked “Why me?” but with herculean determination proceeded with “What’s next Doc?”
Forty-eight hours of cisplatin-chemo infusions, 42 radiation treatments, 15 months with a feeding tube, ongoing xerostomia, chemo brain, neuropathy, and other side effects, many of which continue to this day, Hank emerged fighting for others, as well as himself.
Hank transitioned from a career as a sales manager and trainer, utilizing all his life skills, to his new Mission in Life: to educate others, including dental and medical professionals; to provide so many with the opportunity to be screened; as well as to support patients, survivors, and their caregivers through the treatment process and beyond.
In 2006, Hank was diagnosed with a second primary cancer, Prostate, and endured an additional 35 radiation treatments.
In 2009, Hank faced another very tough road with emergency surgery for Ludwig’s Angina, resulting in overnight hospital stays, total extraction of all teeth, removal of part of his jawbone, implants, oral prostheses, and 50 hyperbaric dives.
A man of great faith, he does not wish for himself but works for others’ benefit. A devoted husband of 47 years, he is a proud father of three, a grandfather of eight, and great-granddad to four, soon to be five.
Where does the foundation for his strength and determination and his ability to take control come from? At the tender age of 8, Hank was afflicted with Polio. A doctor, standing next to Hank’s hospital bed, informed his parents that he would never be able to walk again without the aid of braces and crutches. At age 52, Hank was diagnosed with Post-Polio Syndrome. Sixty-three years later, this very formidable man still runs 5K races and hikes mountains and streams, camera in hand, without any aids.