Before coming to UCLA, I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer of the base of tongue with lymph node involvement. I was treated with chemo and radiation locally in the Palm Desert area.
The initial post treatment PET scan showed residual/persistent cancer in the tongue and a lymph node. I was told to seek a surgical solution and was referred to a regional medical center. After a brief physical exam, my wife and I were presented with their solution. Complete removal of my tongue and voice box and a permanent tracheotomy. No reconstructive efforts. This would have left me unable to speak or eat. It was the quality of life, post surgery, that I was not willing to accept. I made the decision not to have the surgery. I wanted to live out my remaining time being able to speak and let the disease run its course. I accepted the reality that I probably had a few more months to live before entering a hospice program. I promised myself that I would live that time fully. This decision was especially hard on my wife as she had lost her mother and her baby sister over the prior couple of months.
It was then that we were referred to the UCLA Head and Neck Cancer program and specifically to Dr. Maie St. John. We were hoping that the treatment proposed would be less radical and be able to preserve an acceptable quality of life. Dr. St John did not disappoint. Her experience, drive, and compassion for her patients was instantly evident.
We also met with Dr. Keith Blackwell, the reconstructive surgeon. He is exceptional as well. Experience, confidence, and compassion were instantly displayed. I was confident I was getting the best care possible. Their advanced surgical techniques and experience in reconstructive surgery would provided a quality of life beyond our hopes.
After additional scans and a biopsy it turned out that I don’t need the surgery on my tongue. The cancer was clear! Dr. St John was as excited as we were. Now we are just waiting on the results for the lymph node biopsy.
Overall my experience at UCLA has been exceptional in every way. I can say to anyone that comes to UCLA with head or neck cancer that you are in one of the best possible places in the world to receive treatment. Dr. St John and Dr. Blackwell are truly exceptional people that happen to be incredible doctors. Their patients and I are very lucky to have such dedicated doctors that are pushing the envelope in the care and treatment of Head and Neck cancer patients.