Mother, IT Project Manager/Beekeeper and Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer; Miami, Fl
Ada Valdes is a single parent of two teenaged daughters and lives in Miami. At 62, she was diagnosed with HPV-positive squamous cell carcinoma.
Her cancer journey began while tending to her bees. She is a proud backyard beekeeper, and even though she wears protection, a bee managed to sting her neck right through her veil, resulting in a minor allergic reaction which lasted a few days. After the swelling subsided, Ada noticed a lump in the same area of the sting and thought it was a delayed reaction and paid it no further attention.
Weeks later, the lump was still there, so she went to see her physician, who prescribed antibiotics. However, the antibiotics did not diminish the lump, so her doctor encouraged her to follow up with an ENT.
The ENT performed an endoscopy and did not find anything concerning, but recommended Ada undergo a biopsy to be certain. Her biopsy results were inconclusive, so the ENT then recommended she follow-up with a head and neck surgeon.
At her initial appointment with the surgeon, he indicated there may be a 50/50 chance that it was an HPV-related carcinoma based on the fact that she was not a smoker or drinker nor was there a family history of cancer. Ada then underwent a neck dissection.
During the surgery, an initial biopsy of her tongue and both tonsils were taken and appeared clear. Her surgeon proceeded with the neck dissection and found that several lymph nodes were affected and proceeded to remove her tonsils. It was there, hidden all the way in a crease of her back, left tonsil that a tiny focal point was found.
A week later, the biopsy results confirmed the HPV-attributed squamous cell carcinoma. She began therapy immediately, consisting of 33 radiation sessions and six rounds of chemotherapy. Two months later, she rang the bell surrounded by family and friends.
“I firmly believe that bee was a Godsend, and I credit it for saving my life. Like bees working together towards a sweet and positive end, my ‘hive’ of family and friends provided love, prayers, flowers, and plenty of soup. Each day was one day closer towards reaching the finish line. My subsequent PET scan came back clear,” explained Ada.