Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Strong Bond among Patients Helps Navigate Cancer Journey

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Messenger: Strong Bond among Patients Helps Navigate Cancer Journey

Article excerpt

With a fist bump and three words 'You made it' my radiation oncologist welcomed me to the post-treatment phase in my new life as a cancer patient.

It was Oct. 13, and Dr. Robert Frazier smiled bigger than I could in celebrating that, after 31 radiation treatments and six days of chemotherapy, the process of trying to kill my cancer had ended. It was a relief, and yet, I wasn't yet in a smiling mood.

My doctors, reinforced by my new email pen pals all whom had suffered and survived through a similar throat cancer diagnosis as mine had let me know some of the toughest days lie ahead.

Indeed, the worst days for most head-and-neck cancer patients, as I would find out in October and November, are the initial weeks after treatment. The buildup of radiation is so strong that the pain is at its worst; you don't want to eat or drink; fatigue is ever- present; isolation from family and friends feeds thoughts of depression.

This is where my pen pals come in.

I wrote about my cancer in September out of a sense of obligation. In taking a new columnist role, there's a certain sharing of your life with readers that is part of the job. And in having a form of cancer throat cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV that is on the rise, I wanted to help others like me feel more comfortable sharing their stories.

But it was the stories that were shared with me that I will remember.

There were Marilyn and Doug, Mike and Paul, John and Mark and Raymond.

Each had a version of the same cancer I had, and in responding to my column, shared their own stories of treatment and recovery.

The stories reinforced a message found throughout Tom Brokaw's book about his own cancer fight: "A Lucky Life, Interrupted." First, everybody's cancer is different. Even for those of us with a very similar diagnosis, our numbers of radiation treatments and chemo sessions are all unique. And when it comes to comparing cancers, as Bill McClellan and I did the other day in an unofficial meeting of the Post-Dispatch cancer cluster club, treatments and reactions are like night and day.

A second theme Brokaw hits on for cancer patients is to actively manage your care. …

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