Psychotherapist and Survivor of HPV-attributed Tonsil Cancer; Rehoboth Beach, DE
In January 2018, at the age of 62, Gail experienced a consistent sore throat. This was not particularly unusual since she was prone to sinus infections. She went to her primary care physician and was treated for strep throat. However, Gail continued to experience the same symptoms. Plus, she felt as if shards of glass were lodged in her throat, and then a growth appeared on the inside of her mouth. She returned to her primary care doctor, who looked in her mouth and attempted to not be alarmed. Gail could sense that something was not good.
She was then referred to a local ENT who did a biopsy. The biopsy confirmed that Gail had an HPV-related squamous cell cancer on the left tonsil.
“I appreciated the honesty of the local ENT doctor who suggested that I go to University of Pennsylvania or Jefferson in Philadelphia, about 2-1/2 hours from my home,” explained Gail. “I went to Penn, and on March 14, 2018, I had a 12-hour robotic surgery (TORS) to remove the cancer. The surgery included removal of the tumor and left tonsil, a neck dissection, removal of 42 lymph nodes, and a skin graft to act as a ‘flap’ to cover the opening that was inside my mouth.”
After the flap was healed enough, she started six weeks of daily proton radiation. “Now, of course, there is so much more to this journey, but that’s a book to perhaps be written at another time,” said Gail.
Gail is healing and in recovery and her focus is trying to get used to her new normal. “Eating has been a challenge with the reconfiguration of my throat, and my taste and swallowing is altered. I see my medical team every three months. My last scan was good, and I continue to be grateful and prayerful for continued good news,” added Gail.
“I remain optimistic and use my humor as a tool for survival. I’ve lost approximately 45 pounds through this journey, and I had the weight to lose, but I tell people I wouldn’t recommend the cancer diet! In 2019, I look forward to retiring, and enjoying some of my favorite pastimes: reading, traveling, and spending quality time with friends and family.”