In May 2013, Harry Foreman and his wife were near the end of their annual winter stay in Florida. Harry, a retired teacher from Glendale, Wisconsin, was getting ready for a yearly checkup with his family physician in Florida.
“The night before I went in for the appointment, I felt a lump on my neck,” said Harry, who was 66 at the time. “The next day, the doctor told me I had an inflamed lymph node and that it wasn’t unusual. He said the lump should go away by itself in a few weeks.”
When the lump did not go away, Harry returned to his doctor. He was referred to a surgeon, who urged him to see a cancer specialist. Harry soon received a life-changing diagnosis: squamous cell carcinoma.
“My specialist in Florida said the cancer was in an unusual location next to my throat and that to completely remove the cancer, he might have to remove my larynx,” Harry said.
The prospect of permanently losing his voice was frightening. Harry wanted a second opinion. He researched his options and made an appointment with Bruce Campbell, MD, otolaryngologist, head and neck cancer surgeon and Medical College of Wisconsin faculty member.
Harry recalled Dr. Campbell’s reassuring words: “He said, ‘If I can’t remove all the cancer with surgery, we will find another way to treat it — but I am not going to take out your voice box.’”
The Froedtert & MCW Head and Neck Cancer Program focuses on tumors that occur in the moist tissues that line the mouth, nose and throat. The program also treats cancers of the salivary glands, thyroid and other structures in the oral and nasal cavities. According to Dr. Campbell, the key to the program’s outstanding results is teamwork.
“We discuss new patient cases in a team-based setting that includes otolaryngologists, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and many others,” Dr. Campbell said. “We agree on a research-tested recommendation. Then we review options with the patient and family. We know what we choose together affects people the rest of their lives.”
One of Dr. Campbell’s top priorities was preserving Harry’s larynx.
“With all our patients, our challenge is giving people the absolute best chance of effective treatment, while leaving them functionally intact,” Dr. Campbell said. “With Harry, our goal was to try to save his voice box and make sure he would continue to be able to speak, swallow and function normally.”
Harry’s surgery took place in July 2013. During a five-hour procedure, Dr. Campbell removed masses from his neck and salivary glands, as well as a throat tumor the size of a ping pong ball. Harry recovered for two months before beginning six weeks of radiation therapy.
“We have a variety of advanced technologies that allow us to deliver radiation therapy in a ‘conformal’ fashion to the tumor,” said Christopher Schultz, MD, radiation oncologist and MCW faculty member. “For patients like Harry, that means we can shape the radiation dose to the tumor and, at the same time, protect critical structures like the spinal cord, jaw and salivary glands.”
While he was receiving radiation therapy, Harry also received drug therapy under the supervision of Stuart Wong, MD, hematologist/oncologist and MCW faculty member. “Harry was treated with cisplatin,” Dr. Wong said. “It’s a very effective medicine that attacks cancer directly and also sensitizes the cancer cells to the effects of radiation therapy.”
Harry completed the entire course of treatment just before Thanksgiving. “Harry is a resilient soul,” Dr. Wong said. “He has a very strong will and a good outlook on life, and I think that carried him through treatment quite well.”
Today, Harry is cancer-free. His doctors consider him to be cured, and his voice is as strong as ever. And he has advice for others.
“If you find anything in your body that you’ve never found before or if you feel differently than you’ve felt before, please have it checked out immediately by your doctor,” he said. “Don’t wait — and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion.”
Harry is grateful to his caregivers. “They were my team for five years, and I couldn’t imagine a better group of people to go with on my cancer journey.”