Husband, Father, IT Director
and Survivor of HPV-attributed Stage 2 Throat Cancer;
Michael, an active IT director and proud father of two grown children, considers his cancer diagnosis “a bit of a fluke”.
He and his wife of 35 years, Debra, while on a family vacation fell in love with the Blue Ridge mountains, the lakes, and more importantly the slower pace of life compared to the Baltimore area, where they had resided for more than 20 years.
They took “the leap” and moved to their current home on a lake cove. At their new home, Michael was doing many physical projects and started finding himself getting winded. He just thought he was out of shape. Ten years earlier, he was informed he had a heart of a 30-year-old. He had worked on losing nearly 90 pounds over the course of three years and, with the exception of sugar struggles and fighting Type 2 diabetes, he thought he was in relatively good health.
One day walking to the mailbox, Michael felt tightness in his chest. He had a stress test done and was recommended he see a cardiologist. He scheduled the appointment that week and learned he had a heart blockage. An attempted stent failed when the additional blockage was discovered and surgery was required.
In early July 2020, Michael underwent a quadruple plus bypass, which spared his heart of an attack and no permanent damage was done.
When in recovery, Michael was informed they noticed a growth in his throat during the procedure. He was recommended to an ENT where they confirmed a mass in his throat. He then underwent a biopsy, which confirmed Stage 2 HPV -attributed throat cancer. Further testing indicated the disease had progressed to his lymph nodes on his left side and with some spreading on his right side. Michael had ZERO symptoms, no problems swallowing, and no changes in his voice.
He received a chemo port in his right upper chest area. His chemotherapy oncologist suggested it was the best means to ensure he received his treatments and would make fluid transfers and blood work easy. His radiation oncology team had him fitted with a strap-down face mask, and Michael underwent radiation treatments five days a week for 16 + weeks.
Halfway thru the treatments, Michael needed a feeding tube to sustain him. Between his bypass operation and now cancer treatments, he had lost an additional 50 pounds and swallowing had become more and more of a challenge.
In post-op, he aspirated and most likely was already O2 deprived prior to the procedure as his wife indicated that he was “out of it” even before he went to the hospital. The scene in recovery, Debra said, reminded her of a Grey’s Anatomy episode: an army of hospital staff trying to stabilize Michael and figure out the cause. He was white as a ghost. Fortunately, his cardiologist was available and diagnosed him with excess fluid buildup and they immediately drained the massive amounts of fluid.
Michael ended up in the ICU for 10 days, lost two weeks of cancer treatment time, and had to learn a whole “new normal” when it came to nutrition.
“I was NOT a good patient, desperately wanting out of the hospital bed, and was not all that kind to my nurses, nor my wife, at the time. Near the end of my stay, one of my ICU nurses took the extra step of getting all my fluids and IVs loaded on a wheelchair, masked me up and took me for a spin around the hospital to see the sunshine, parking lot, trees,” explained Michael. “It was a 30-minute act of kindness I will always remember and helped me get thru a difficult time. I went home two days before Thanksgiving.”
Michael ended his radiation and chemo treatments the week before Christmas 2020. He was happy to be done, but at the same time exhausted and now nervous, wondering if all this effort was in vain, given the Covid-19 pandemic and stressing over being exposed.
Having developed communication and engagement programs for the colorectal cancer advocacy community, Michael is a big believer that we all have a voice, and it’s important to share our journey. He has been very open on social platforms about his diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, gathering strength and encouragement from so many friends and connections. You can read more about Michael and his cancer journey on his blog, Kickin’ The Midlife Tire.
This past year has not been easy. Michael has new challenges and even though the growth is gone and his lymph nodes for the most part returned to normal, he is still dealing with lymphedema. He has difficulty turning his neck, swallowing is a challenge depending on the food, and now he has issues with his thyroid.
Michael’s “new normal” has been a bumpy ride, but it’s one he’s not afraid to be on.