Tonsil cancer survivor fights HPV stigma

At age 62, Tom Jackson was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The diagnosis is common among men his age, so he took it in stride. But shortly before Tom was scheduled to have his prostate removed, he discovered a lump on his neck. A biopsy and CT scan of the lump revealed that Tom also had squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsil caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). “Prostate cancer for any man over the age of 60 is acceptable,” Tom says. “You know it’s going to happen. You have to deal with it. However, HPV cancer, for anybody, but especially for a man over the age of 60, is unexpected. My first thought was, ‘How did this happen?’”           John Papadopoulous, M.D., Tom’s urologic oncologist at MD Anderson in Katy, recommended he leave the prostate cancer untreated for the time being and focus on his tonsil cancer treatment. Under the care of Charles Lu, M.D., Tom underwent a combination of chemotherapy and radiation to treat the tonsil cancer with oncologists Charles Lu, M.D., and Sunil Patel, M.D.; radiation oncologist Gregory Chronowski, M.D.; and surgeon Kristen B. Pytynia, M.D. Learning to walk, talk and eat again Tom’s treatment left him feeling completely broken. He recalls returning home unable to do many of the things he could before treatment. For example, before treatment he ran daily. After treatment, he came home using a walker. Tom recalls the moment he knew he’d beat this. “It was a great joy in my life when I could walk from my front door and touch the front door of the house across the street, by myself, without...