Husband & Father, Owner and Operator of Bennett & Associates, and HPV-attributed Throat Cancer Survivor; Mount Pleasant, SC
Tom Bennett, born and raised in Westport, Connecticut, enjoyed an active childhood and loved living in a coastal community. He attended Sacred Heart University, and a year after graduation, he married his college sweetheart. They soon started their own family.
As a small business owner, Tom’s life was fast-paced. His company was expanding into real estate and renovation work in other states, requiring him to travel.
One day, in early July of 2015 while on business travel, he noticed a lump on his neck while shaving. He figured he’d been exposed to some dust, and it was just another sinus infection. That’s when his cancer journey began.
In July, once back in Connecticut, he scheduled a doctor’s appointment. His doctor did an examination, believing it also to be infection and prescribed antibiotics. This was the first miss by a doctor of his HPV-attributed throat cancer diagnosis.
Tom then went to an infectious disease physician for four weeks and was yet to receive a proper diagnosis.
He then underwent a CT scan, where the radiologist reported a “mass at base of tongue”. Protocol called for a visit to an ENT.
“I remember that day clearly. The doctor didn’t diagnose me at that time, he just told me that I needed to see one of two doctors at Yale, and if I couldn’t get to see one of them within a week to call him. Well, that’s when the panic began to set in,” explained Tom.
There was no discussion of cancer yet, just the urgency to see a doctor at Yale. Tom felt fine, except for the one swollen lymph node, and had no trouble swallowing. He felt strong but just wanted to know what was wrong. The imminent concern of the appointment at Yale was compounded when he received a questionnaire from Yale’s Smilow Cancer Center in the mail. “What is this all about,” he thought. “How can I have cancer…I feel fine?” Tom distinctly remembers the September day at Yale. The doctor inserted a scope down his throat and then a few minutes later confirmed his diagnosis by telling him, “Mr. Bennett, you have a tumor on the base of your tongue and because of its location, it’s likely HPV-positive.” Tom was in shock. He was diagnosed with Stage 4 tongue cancer.
“I was by myself that day as my wife was visiting our daughter at college. I walked out of the hospital in shock. I asked myself “Why me?” and “What did I do?” He called his wife from the car and told her the bad news.
“I cried. I felt alone. But believe it or not, that may have been the emotionally worst part… processing the cancer diagnosis alone.”
His treatment began in early November 2015 and lasted six weeks. He was accepted into a clinical trial that took one week off the standard 7-week treatment. His chemotherapy infusion (Cisplatin) was every Monday and radiation treatments were from Monday through Friday. Over those six weeks, he lost his taste, appetite, considerable weight, and most of his motivation. But as he began to reflect, he knew he was done being treated, but he wasn’t done living. So, now the fight!
He focused on nutrition. He didn’t require a feeding tube, but knew that if he didn’t stop losing weight, his doctors might recommend the need for one. Swallowing was definitely challenging since the radiation burned his throat raw. He was frustrated yet determined.
Follow-up visits with his oncologist determined Tom should have neck dissection to remove the mass in his neck that remained. His recovery went fairly and his new life as a cancer survivor began.
Fast forward to December 2018. He now resides in another coastal city near Charleston, South Carolina. He visits his new doctors every six months for screenings.
“Fortunately, I continue to be cancer-free and in good health. I look at life differently. Less intense with work. Enjoy life more. Cook more. Walk more… live more. Most importantly, God and faith guided me through this and I am thankful to be alive,” said Tom.