Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week® Celebrity Spokespersons & Notable Sports Figures
During the 20-year history of Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week®, OHANCAW®, HNCA has been extremely fortunate to have many high-profile spokespersons join us in raising widespread awareness along with sending a strong message to GET SCREENED during OHANCAW®.
From Academy Award Winning Actor Michael Douglas to just recently Pro-Football Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, all of our spokespersons have dedicated themselves to campaigning about the importance of early detection, urging participation in OHANCAW® as well as the need to request proper screenings during annual medical and dental check-ups.
All have shared their own personal head and neck cancer journey, or a personal loved one’s experience, to further highlight the critical importance of early detection, with the hopes of saving lives.
Voice Actor and Throat Cancer Survivor
Voice actor and throat cancer survivor, Rob Paulsem served as the face and voice for OHANCA® as the 2020 Spokesperson and will rejoin HNCA as the 2021 OHANCA® Spokeperson. Paulsen is known for voicing some of the most iconic cartoon characters of all-time. His voice has been featured in series such as Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Rob will now use his famous voice to help raise awareness of oral, head and neck cancer, encourage those at risk to get screened for oral cancer, and promote the importance of early detection and prevention via HPV vaccination. Diagnosed with HPV-attributed stage III squamous cell carcinoma in 2016, Rob faced terrifying uncertainty as a voice actor confronting throat cancer.
“The doctors said, ‘We’re pretty sure we can cure you, but first, we almost have to kill you.’ The treatment is brutal,” explained Paulsen. “They could cure me, but they couldn’t guarantee that my voice would survive. They said I’d be able to speak, but they couldn’t guarantee I’d still be able to make a living as a voice actor. Their job, they said, was to save me, not my career.”
Rob battled through an aggressive treatment regimen and is now cancer free—and still doing the voice work he loves so much. As a throat cancer survivor, his role as HNCA’s spokesperson is deeply personal.
“I’m so fortunate because I can not only continue to make a living, but I can make a difference, and I can’t wait to use that on the biggest scale that I can.”
Founder and Drummer of Poison and Oropharyngeal Cancer Survivor
Founder and drummer for the rock band Poison and HPV-attributed oropharyngeal cancer survivor, Rikki Rockett, joined HNCA as its official 2019 OHANCA Spokesperson.
“We don’t know what the future holds. Let’s work together to drum out head and neck cancer and take advantage of the free oral, head and neck cancer screenings during OHANCAW®.”
Rikki has experienced a lifetime of successes as a musician, a businessman, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. As a motorsports enthusiast, he is now a personality host for the sport on the YouTube Network.
NBA Champion and Tongue Cancer Survivor
Michael Cooper, LA Lakers legend and an oral cancer survivor, joined forces with the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance to promote the benefits of screenings and early detection as the 20th Annual OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2018.
“The ball is in your court…get yourself screened,” says Michael Cooper, five-time NBA Champion.
Mr. Cooper, currently a sports announcer, motivational speaker and consultant on basketball operations, has spent his life in and around basketball. A former player in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Cooper won five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers during their Showtime era. He has also coached in the NBA, WNBA, and the NBA Development League. Cooper is the only person to win a championship, as either a coach or a player, in the NBA, WNBA, and the NBA D-League.
“When I was first diagnosed in the summer of 2014, I had never heard of tongue cancer and I was stunned when I was told that the sore on my tongue was early stage cancer and I needed surgery immediately,” says Cooper. “Like with all cancers, early detection is key, and I urge everyone to get screened for oral, head and neck cancers by taking advantage of the free screenings offered during OHANCAW at hundreds of local facilities throughout the country listed on the www.headandneck.org website. The good news is that new medical advances, such as recent development in immunotherapy, are improving the chances for a full recovery but early detection is still critical. The ball is in your court…get yourself screened!”
Former Professional NFL Quarterback & Oral Cancer Survivor
Jim Kelly, former NFL quarterback for the Buffalo Bills and oral cancer survivor, urged Americans to get screened and know the symptoms of head and neck cancer for HNCA’s 19th Annual OHANCAW® in 2017.
Diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2013, Mr. Kelly had a portion of his upper jaw removed. Follow-up tests nine months later showed cancer in his sinus, which led to radiation and chemotherapy treatments. With further treatments, support of family and community, and proper nutrition, Mr. Kelly is now experiencing a full recovery.
The NFL Hall of Famer message to others:
“If you feel like there is something going on and don’t quite know, Get Screened! Find out what it is. Too many people wait until it’s too late. The key is an early diagnosis.”
Mr. Kelly also serves as the National Spokesperson for the Your Cancer Story, an awareness campaign focused on helping people with cancer and their loved ones tackle their emotional, nutritional and communication needs, and encourages patients and survivors along with their loved ones, to make a “game plan” to support their cancer journey. Learn more about YourCancerStory.com. In 2018, Mr. Kelly announced that his cancer had returned. He had surgery to remove the cancer that same year and was cancer-free in early 2019.
Singer, Songwriter & Oral Cancer Survivor
Jessica Tar, a singer, songwriter, and actress served as the 2016 OHANCAW®. A tongue cancer survivor, Ms. Tar works to educate millions about oral, head and neck cancers. Her specific focus is to raise awareness with young adults, informing them that oral, head and neck cancers are not a disease of OLD people or only caused by smoking.
One of Ms. Tar’s biggest concerns about her oral cancer surgery was the possibility of losing the ability to speak clearly, which could seriously hamper her performance career.
Treated by Dr. Jatin Shah, a world-renowned surgeon and HNCA Board member, Ms. Tar was performing only a few months following the surgical procedure.
NFL Referee & Throat Cancer Survivor
Mr. Corrente, an NFL official since 1995 who refereed Super Bowl XLI in 2007 as well as AFC Championship, NFC Championship, Divisional, Wild Card and bowl games, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2011 under unusual circumstances. While officiating at a Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens game, he was knocked to the turf during a skirmish between players. He took ibuprofen to alleviate the pain in his head and back, and found himself coughing up blood.
Following several medical tests, a cancerous mass was found at the base of his tongue. Mr. Corrente, who wears uniform number 99, was treated with chemotherapy and radiation by specialists at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. He recovered and is now in good health and doing fine. OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2016.
Basketball Legend & Tongue Cancer Survivor
Donnie Walsh, former President of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks and an oral cancer survivor. Mr. Walsh, now retired from his role as the Basketball Operations consultant for the Indiana Pacers, has spent his life in and around basketball, initially as a player in high school and college, and then moving on to a 37-year career in the National Basketball Association, including coach of the Denver Nuggets and high-level administrative positions with the Pacers and Knicks. In 2008, Mr. Walsh was diagnosed with stage 1 tongue cancer. Following a surgical resection procedure, which required removal of the affected part of his tongue, the cancer has been kept under control. OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2015.
Former Member of The Monkees & Tongue Cancer Survivor
Popular recording artist, actor and former member of The Monkees, Peter Tork, was an oral cancer survivor. Mr. Tork was best known as a member of the iconic 1960s TV, recording and performing group, The Monkees, whose number one hits include “I’m A Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville.” He was diagnosed in March, 2009 with adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC), a relatively rare cancer that typically occurs in the salivary glands, on the lower part of his tongue. Following surgery to remove the tumor and courses of radiation, Mr. Tork was declared free of any detectable cancer. He served as the OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2012. In 2018, Mr. Tork’s cancer returned and he later passed away on February 21, 2019.
Academy Award-Winning Actor & Throat Cancer Survivor
Mr. Douglas, a screen legend who won Academy Awards as Best Actor for his role in the movie Wall Street and as producer of 1975’s Best Picture One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, was diagnosed with advanced-stage IV throat cancer in August 2010. Following several weeks of aggressive radiation and chemotherapy, it was announced in January 2011 that the popular movie and TV star had a “complete response” to treatment in that his tumor is no longer detectable by physical examination or medical imaging. Although he must have monthly check-ups because there is a chance of tumor recurrence, Mr. Douglas is confident of complete recovery. OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2011.
Widow of NASCAR Racing Champion Bobby Hamilton
Lori Hamilton, wife of the late NASCAR racing legend Bobby Hamilton served as OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2008. Bobby Hamilton, the 2004 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion and a four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner, died in January 2007 from complications of oral cancer, at the age of 49.
Legendary College Football Coach, Whose Wife, Beth, Survived Throat Cancer
Beth Holtz, who underwent 83 rounds of radiation treatment for throat cancer, still lives with the effects of xerostomia and carries a water bottle around with her wherever she goes to aid swallowing and ease her discomfort. Xerostomia, a common side effect of radiotherapy for head and neck cancer, can affect one’s ability to taste, swallow and even speak.
Retired from the University of South Carolina, Lou Holtz enjoyed an illustrious, 33-year career as head coach of six NCAA Division I-A football teams and earned three National Coach of the Year awards (1977, 1988 and 1998). Ranked eighth among college football coaches with the most wins, Holtz led his teams to 249 victories, a national championship (University of Notre Dame in 1988) and 12 college bowl games. One of Holtz’s greatest accomplishments came in 1988 and 1989, when he led Notre Dame on a record 23-game winning streak, the longest in the school’s football history. Lou served as OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2005.
MLB Player & Tonsil Cancer Survivor
Brett Butler played Major League Baseball for 17 years, starting with the Atlanta Braves in 1979 and moving on to the Cleveland Indians, San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets. The popular center fielder retired in 1997, as one of only 26 players in Major League history to compile at least 550 stolen bases and 2000 hits for a career.
The Lou Gehrig Award winner was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the tonsil in 1996 after undergoing a tonsillectomy. He was treated with both surgery and radiation, and credits his early diagnosis and prompt treatment with saving his life. OHANCAW® Spokesperson in 2004 & 2006.
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