From OHC

June 6, 2024

No one expects a cancer diagnosis.  It could be a small fear, hidden away in the back of your mind when you have a lingering illness or you’re not feeling great, but usually, it’s the furthest possible reason from your mind.  For OHC patient Douglas Dick, his illness was subtle, and he didn’t expect the cancer diagnosis he received.  An ironworker dedicated to his wife and three children, Doug isn’t a tobacco user and he didn’t engage in what he thought was risky behavior, so he and his family were shocked by his head and neck cancer diagnosis.

In April of 2019, Doug, a resident of Hidden Valley Lake, Indiana, had not been feeling well for weeks.  He noticed a lump on the side of his neck and went to an urgent care to have it checked.  They gave him antibiotics and sent him home.  Unfortunately, the lump never went away and as time went on, his wife Keisha, a registered nurse, noticed that she was hearing stridor when he was lying down sleeping. Stridor is a harsh vibrating noise when breathing, typically caused by an obstruction of the larynx.  This is when Doug sought care from his primary care doctor, Jane A. Blinzler, MD, with Mercy Health.

Dr. Blinzler referred Doug to an ear, nose, and throat doctor with Mercy.  Alter G. Peerless, MD recommended surgery to remove the lump and a lymph node.  After performing a biopsy, Dr. Peerless diagnosed Doug with head and neck cancer, specifically stage 3 squamous cell carcinoma of the oropharynx.  Doug was referred to former OHC radiation oncologist Dr. Pratt, who worked with medical oncologist and hematologist Prasad R. Kudalkar, MD.

When asked about the day he was told it was cancer, Doug said he vividly remembers coming home to find his three young children in the picture window of their home.  “They were all standing at the window waiting for us to give the thumbs up or down and I felt like I was letting them down.  It was a very tough moment.  But they all put their arms around me and hugged me and they made me feel hopeful. They gave me something to look forward to and fight for.”

There were many reasons to hope, and one of those reasons was Dr. Kudalkar, who was confident in the treatment plan he and the multidisciplinary team at OHC designed for Doug.  “Doug’s case of head and neck cancer was treatable and with an aggressive treatment plan of concurrent radiation and chemotherapy. He achieved remission after his initial treatments and has remained in remission since 2019,” explains Dr. Kudalkar.

Doug’s case of head and neck cancer was linked to Human Papillomavirus (HPV).  Approximately 30% of the head and neck cancer diagnoses in the U.S. are caused by HPV.  A sexually transmitted disease, HPV has been linked to five other cancers as well, including cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, anal cancer, penile cancer, and vulvar cancer.  There is a vaccine for HPV which has greatly reduced the number of cases of head and neck cancer.  Dr. Kudalkar adds “We’ve seen an increased correlation between head and neck cancer and HPV.  The introduction of the HPV vaccine has drastically cut head and neck cancer, by 54% in men.  OHC highly recommends the HPV vaccine to all those eligible to reduce their risk of the multiple cancers related to HPV.”

The Centers for Disease Control recommends the HPV vaccine be given to boys and girls starting at age eleven, but it can be given as young as nine.  The vaccine comes in two doses, given six to twelve months apart.  While it is recommended for preteens, it can be given to men and women as late as 45 after speaking with their doctor regarding their specific case.  Be sure to speak with your healthcare provider about what’s right for you and your family.

Doug is grateful he went to OHC for his treatment.  “I’ve been really impressed with everyone here, from the front desk when I walked in the door to the nurse who gave me IV fluids when I was dehydrated, they were always perfect.  They made me feel like part of the team.  Yes, I was the one being treated, but I never felt like that,” explains Doug.

Besides Dr. Kudalkar, Doug mentioned OHC advanced practice provider Laura Weldishofer, DNP, APRN, as being “an angel” during his treatment, adding, “She pushed me to maintain my nutrition, and because of her help I was able to maintain the weight they recommended.  She provided me with hope throughout the experience and told me I could do it every step of the way.  She never faltered.”

When explaining the hardest part of his treatment, he detailed a common side effect of chemotherapy for this type of cancer: hearing loss.  He states, “It was so hard during those days when high-pitched noises would hurt my ears.  My daughter who was only 6 at the time, had such a small high-pitched voice and it was the hardest thing to not be able to listen to her talk.  Thankfully, Dr. Kudalkar heard my concerns and was able to make some changes that I truly believe saved my hearing.  I still have some ringing in my ears, but I’ll take that any day over not being able to hear my kids.”

Doug describes why anyone who has been newly diagnosed with cancer needs to know that there is hope.  “Don’t give up. Instead, look at what’s waiting for you on the other side and how much better your life could be after treatment.  You gain perspective in what matters most.”

After speaking with Doug, it’s clear that what matters most to him is his beautiful family.  OHC was honored to be Doug’s choice for his cancer care and is thrilled to be able to share his story of hope.

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with head and neck cancer, contact OHC to schedule an appointment or second opinion with one of our cancer experts.  Our doctors offer leading-edge therapies and treatments that help provide our patients with the best possible outcomes.  Schedule online or call 888-649-4800.

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