It is and can be an ominous journey to survive cancer and continue on with your life but it can be done with the help of loving friends, good doctors and most importantly a dedicated and caring family.
Fourteen years ago I was diagnosed with 4th stage invasive squamous cell carcinoma that had metastasized to my neck limp nodes and muscles. The original tumor had started on my tongue. I didn’t smoke and only socially drank a glass of wine on occasion. But my life was highly stressful and I was very worried about problems some of my family members were having. These things cannot be helped and we all have to deal with ups and downs, including tragedies of all sorts.
After my initial diagnosis, I went to Roswell Park Cancer Research center for a 2nd opinion with Dr. Laurie, Head and Neck Cancer. He was very truthful and did not pull any punches. When I left there, with my husband Bob, by my side, I fully realized the challenge to survive this disease, and the impact it would have on our lives.
My next move was to seek out a holistic healer as I am deeply spiritual and believe in healing in the most natural way. I remember it was one week after I had been diagnosed and 2nd opinioned that I visited Natur-tyme, which at that time was located over on Charles Ave. in Westvale. I asked if they knew of anyone who practiced holistic healing and sure enough, there was someone there in the back who was a well-respected practitioner. His name was Mr. Williams and he had worked in the pharmaceutical field and had a great background and knowledge of how chemicals work in the body. He too was brutally frank but gentle and knew even before I told him that I had cancer as he reached his hand up to touch the protruding lump on the side of my neck. He said I must have it cut out and also to have radiation, he explained that even in the bible it says to cut and burn out inflictions of the body. But in the same breath, he also said do not get chemotherapy as your body must be strong to accept the healing of nature. He lined up in front of me a few items he recommended to me to start my healing process and gently said to meditate, be at peace and let my worries go and to come back to see him after the surgery. So I left there with great hope and healing in my heart that I carried out the door with the healing items he gave to start my journey to recovery. They were pure green tea, 100% Aloe Vera juice to gargle with, Cassie’s tea, (tonic tea), Miso Soup, (seaweed), and IP 6, an herbal capsule that shrunk tumors. My surgery was scheduled for June 30th, 6 weeks from my initial diagnosis and I could feel the thing throbbing and growing in my neck especially when I hugged those I love it seemed to pulsate with some kind of strange energy. I know now that was the spiritual healing gift that Mr. Williams passed on to me when he reached with his hand to touch the tumor in my neck. Each day right up to the time of the surgery I took the capsules, six in the morning and six at night, gargled with the Aloe Vera juice, drank the teas, sipped the soup and meditated. In the meantime, I tried not to think of or envision the possibilities of the outcome of the surgery and the following radiation treatments. As I said earlier it is an ominous disease and can be very cruel.
My surgeon Dr. Michael Paciorek, young and fresh into practice with all the latest knowledge of Otolaryngological surgery was conferring with Dr. Laurie of the Roswell Park Cancer Research Center. They shared ideas and views and possibilities of the most successful way to say my life and not to disfigure my face. Of course, I did not want to lose my tongue and jaw, but I wanted to live. I wanted to be around for those I knew that needed me to be there for them. That was the secret right there and I learned that much later. It is important to be needed and feel you have a purpose for being here. My family truly needed me.
After the surgery, in which my surgeon had used a new approach to radical neck surgery, I woke up with my face and jaw intact but still had cancer. You see, the holistic healing was kicking in and they were surprised to learn once at the tumor sites that they had greatly decreased in size….so my brilliant surgeon decided to take away what he could without disfiguring me. I did lose all the nodes and the large muscles areas in my neck and few other things like saliva glands but it was the least of what could have been. Waking up in recovery I learned I was still alive and reached up to touch my face and could feel my jaw and nose but I couldn’t talk. I learned later that part of my vocal cords had been affected and I may always have some difficulty talking and swallowing. Saliva glands were gone and the following radiation to kill the rest of cancer burned out whatever glands that were struggling to survive but in the end killed cancer.
My oncologist, Dr. Chung, who administered the eight weeks of daily radiation, was inspirational and supportive and agreed with everything I was doing including refusing the Chemotherapy that he had to recommend along with the radiation. On the record, he never agreed to it but off the record he certainly did. A great man and later he and his wife purchased a large square painting, Red Sunday, for their home. Dr. Paciorek has “Squares of Life” hanging in his office and tells my story to every head and neck cancer patient that comes into his office for treatment. Well, Yolanda, this is my journey and it is still going on, it is a continuous healing and will nourish your soul in the most unique ways. I wish you a calm, meditative healing and the courage to continue on. You are loved and respected and a highly regarded professional artist. You are needed by all of us and me for one especially appreciate you for your talent and caring ways through your generous friendship and encouragement.
Love in healing,