From tonsil cancer survivor to HPV vaccine advocate

I wish the HPV vaccine had been available when I was younger.

If it had been, I might not have developed the tonsil cancer that stole a year of my life,
along with my taste buds, my salivary glands and my ability to eat
solid food comfortably.

If I’d gotten the HPV vaccine when I was a kid, chances are good
that I could have avoided the six weeks of chemotherapy and 33 daily rounds of radiation therapy I endured last summer, as well
as all of the unpleasant side effects they caused.

My tonsil cancer diagnosis

My cancer journey began in February 2016, when I started feeling
pain in my jaw. I also saw some little white spots on my right tonsil,
so I went to a walk-in clinic near my home in St. Martinville,
Louisiana. Doctors there diagnosed me with tonsillitis and gave me
some antibiotics.

After a couple of weeks, I was still feeling pain in my throat, and
I’d found some lumps on the right side of my neck. I went to my ENT,
who also diagnosed me with tonsillitis. He prescribed steroids plus a
second round of antibiotics. They made no difference. When I returned,
he told me to see a dentist to make sure my teeth weren’t causing the
problem. The dentist found nothing.

Finally, my ENT ordered a CT scan, which showed a mass in my neck.
He scheduled surgery to remove my tonsils in June and asked where I
wanted to go if the biopsy showed squamous cell carcinoma. He gave me
a choice between MD Anderson and a hospital closer to home. My wife
and I picked MD Anderson because we heard
it was the best. Why would I want to go anywhere else if I’m fighting
for my life?

My tonsil cancer treatment

When the results of my biopsy came back, I was referred to MD Anderson. There, I saw Ann Gillenwater, M.D. She confirmed that I had
squamous cell carcinoma in my right tonsil, and said that tests showed
it was caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The lumps in my neck
were where the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes.

To treat my cancer, I underwent 33 daily rounds of radiation under
the direction of G. Brandon Gunn, M.D.,and six weeks of
chemotherapy starting in late July. I couldn’t endure a seventh week
because my white blood cell count got too low. I finally finished
treatment in early September and went home to recover.

In October, I returned to MD Anderson
for a CT scan. It showed the tumor was gone and three of the four
affected lymph nodes were back to normal. The fourth lymph node was
still visible, but much smaller. On Dec. 19, 2016, I returned for a
PET scan. That’s when I got the great news: I had no signs of cancer.

Why I support the HPV vaccine

Before my tonsil cancer diagnosis, I didn’t really know anything
about HPV. But I’ve since learned that it causes many forms of cancer
in both men and women.

I have a son who’s 15 now and two stepsons who are 14 and 18. Once I
found out how HPV was connected to cancer, I made sure they got
vaccinated. I tell every other parent I know to have their kids
vaccinated, too.

Being treated for tonsil cancer was one of the hardest tests my body
and mind have ever been through. I lost 100 pounds in six months,
developed painful ulcers in my mouth, and still have ringing in my
ears. My taste buds and salivary glands have also changed, and it’s
taken me a long time to go back from liquid to solid foods.

As grateful as I am to be cancer-free today, it’s no exaggeration to
describe what I went through as an ordeal. It was physical torture and
mental anguish. So, if you could prevent your child from getting
cancer with just a couple of vaccination shots, why wouldn’t you?

MD Anderson is focusing on HPV-related
cancers as part of its Moon Shots Program™ to dramatically reduce
cancer deaths. Learn more about our 

HPV-Related Cancers Moon Shot

Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by
calling 1-877-632-6789.