Executive Television Producer/Journalist and Survivor of HPV-attributed Tongue and Neck Cancer; West Hollywood, CA
On August 1, 2017, Steve received news that a cyst removed four days earlier was HPV-attributed squamous cell carcinoma. He was stunned. What he thought was a fairly routine medical procedure, with earlier tests showing nothing remarkable, turned into seven weeks of radiation treatments and six chemotherapy treatments. The radiation was directed at his neck, where the HPV was found.
At the age of 50, Steve was in the best physical shape of his life. He was an executive producer of a nationally syndicated television show that had been recently canceled, and he’d taken the summer off to focus on his fitness. Little did he know, he was literally preparing his body for battle.
“Everything moved very fast because I knew it had to move fast. I was fitted for the radiation mask that I would wear every day during treatment,” explained Steve. “My first radiation treatment was exactly two weeks later. The chemotherapy was once a week, which I did on Tuesdays immediately after radiation. I called them Double Treatment Tuesdays.”
During Steve’s chemotherapy treatments, friends came and sat with him to keep him company, describing them as his “chemo companions” and his “army of angels,” who kept him laughing and engaged so that he had no chance of slipping into anything other than the belief that everything was going to be all right. Being single and not having family nearby, it was vital for Steve to have a strong support network and to not be afraid to ask for help.
He lost a bit of weight but not much of his hair, and had days that were better than others. But the biggest lesson Steve learned during his cancer treatment was not to dwell on what could happen. “I could have worried, could have lived in fear every single day, if I chose to,” he explained. “I had no idea what the outcome was going to be. But what was going to happen was going to happen, regardless of my worrying or my fear, so why do it?”
Since finishing treatment, he has undergone full body PET/CT scans and has had an endoscopy. All have come back negative. Clear. For now, the cancer is gone. He’s doing everything he can to make sure it stays that way.
Having spent his entire adult life working in journalism, he was well aware that HPV is the leading cause of cervical cancer. However, he was not aware of its prevalence in head and neck cancer, particularly in men. His mother, a lifelong smoker, fought lung cancer and beat it. Eventually, Steve lost her to a heart attack. As far as Steve knows, her cancer had been the only history of cancer in his family, up until his own diagnosis.
“I’m not a parent, nor would I ever tell parents what’s best for their own children. But if I was a parent, I would have my daughters and sons vaccinated against HPV. It might save their life.”