HNCA Ambassador, Melvin LeBlanc’s Cancer Experience: Signs, Symptoms and Side Effects
A lump started forming on the right side of my neck just below my ear during the first two weeks of May 2018. I visited two clinics undergoing a total of 5 needle biopsies to the lump, with no conclusive results, but cancerous possibilities. I went to MD Anderson Cancer Center located in Houston Texas, and with an additional 2 needle biopsies, it was determined on May 15, 2018 that I had Metastatic Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The primary source of the cancer was identified to be at the base of my tongue about 2 millimeters in size, which was nearly imperceptible on the CT results. The cause of the cancer was based on an HPV-positive presumption.
On June 13, 2018, I started radiation and chemo treatment. As the radiation treatment progressed my skin became discolored, looking like a serious case of sunburn, and daily application of skincare was important to prevent severe skin damage. Another side effect of radiation to the neck/throat area was the difficulties of eating and swallowing food, which gradually took its toll on me. Three weeks into my treatment, on July 1, 2018, I started vomiting a dark red almost purple substance. I initially thought it to be blueberries that I had eaten moments earlier, but after looking closer, I determined it was blood. My wife rushed me to MD Anderson emergency room and was later diagnosed with Severe Protein Calorie Malnutrition, resulting in 14 lbs. of weight loss. The remedy for this diagnosis was the surgical insertion of a feeding tube into my stomach. I spent the 4th of July holiday recovering from a successful surgery.
After leaving the hospital, I continued the radiation, chemo, and feeding tube treatment. For about a week or two before the end of the radiation treatment, I would go through a whole box of tissues in one day attempting to keep my mouth clear of excessive salvia. I recall having to cancel business meetings for one week because the salvia prevented me from speaking properly. My radiation and chemo treatment ended on July 25, 2018, as I ‘rung the bell’ at the Bay Area MD Anderson facility in Houston Texas.
The feeding tube treatment continued for an additional 6 weeks. Removal of the tube was based on my ability to consume about 1500 to 2000 calories per day without using the tube for nutrition. As the weeks passed, healing of the throat from the radiation treatment progressed. I can remember the day I tried chicken noodle soup. I cried…tears of joy rolled down my face…as I was able to swallow, and more amazingly, I was able [once again] to taste food after having no taste at all or food tasting like metal due to the chemo treatment. My ability to return to regular food and wean myself off the feeding tube ended on September 6, 2018…as I laid down on the examination table, the doctor distracted me for 1 second and literally ‘yanked’ the feeding tube out of my stomach…no surgery…no pain…no blood. Wow, how amazing the design of the human body.
I thank God for this decree and experience, it has humbled me.
“How wonderful is the affair of the believer.”
Husband & Father
Global HSSE Learning Advisor at Shell Oil Company
Survivor of Head and Neck Cancer
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