What I learned from tonsil cancer

I grew up in a medical family. My father was a doctor, and my mother was hospital dietitian. So, I’ve been familiar with medicine and medical terms virtually all my life. But like most people, I was hardly ready for a cancer diagnosis. Hearing words like oropharyngeal, metastasis, fractionated radiation and paclitaxel made it clear that would I have to learn quickly. After my 2013 diagnosis of stage IV HPV-related tonsil cancer by a Memphis doctor, I immediately rushed into research mode. I went through a frenzy of concern, fear and dread until I could approach my cancer with acceptance and rationality. I wanted to forge a sound, logical plan to move forward but, like most people, this was my first cancer diagnosis, and that proved difficult. While repressing my first instinct to obsess about whether I’d survive, I knew I wanted the best doctors in the country to manage and treat my cancer. I took the advice of several friends and doctors and quickly made an appointment at MD Anderson. I spent most of the next 12 months in Houston receiving chemotherapy and radiation, and then a radical surgery along with further chemo and radiation to treat a recurrence. Here’s what I learned during that time. Give into the experts, not the cancer After my tonsil cancer diagnosis, I tried to learn as much terminology as I could as fast as I could. But I quickly learned that, regardless of how smart and strong I thought I was, when you consult with surgeons, radiation specialists and oncologists at a world-class cancer center, you’re never the smartest person in...