Throat cancer survivor offers advice and inspiration to patients undergoing radiation
September 14, 2018
| by Saundra Young
Throat cancer survivor Gerry Edick
“I’m in love with City of Hope.”
That’s Gerald Edick. Avid tennis player and lifelong athlete, 55 year-old cancer survivor and City of Hope patient.
Edick's battle with squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck was long and arduous, but he emerged on the other side with a greater understanding of himself. Now, he says he wants to share what he learned with others on the same journey.
Edick’s story began about 18 months ago.
“I had been feeling some pressure in the left side of my head,” he recalled. “And I also was having pretty strong pain in the left side of my neck.”
He saw a doctor who did an ultrasound.
“They said they didn’t think it was much of anything,” he remembered. “I still felt pressure on the side of my head, but I wanted to believe what they said although I knew they probably weren’t right.”
Not convinced, he went to see an ear, nose and throat specialist.
“He stuck the scope down my nose and told me that he thought that I had HPV-related cancer, and that it had probably spread to some lymph nodes.”
Of the more than 200 kinds of human papillomavirus (HPV), about a dozen are considered “high risk” and are known to cause cancer. Two of them, HPV 16 and HPV 18, are responsible for nearly all HPV-related cancers.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 70 percent of oropharyngeal (throat) cancers
are directly linked to HPV, and in the U.S., HPV 16 causes more than half of those. Edick had been exposed to HPV 16.
His ear, nose and throat doctor wanted to perform surgery right away, the prospect of which Edick found “incredibly frightening.” Instead, a family member contacted City of Hope, where Ellie Magahmi, M.D.
, chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery and The Norman and Sadie Lee Foundation Endowed Professor in Head and Neck Cancer, saw Edick right away.
Edick during treatment
Edick's treatment team decided surgery was not the way to go, mapping out an intensive treatment program instead.
“Initially, he was diagnosed as having squamous cell carcinoma of his neck with unknown primary location,” said Sampath. “However, after close examination, it was deemed that the tumor primary origin was the tonsil. We delivered seven weeks of radiation with weekly chemotherapy.”
Shortly after he began treatment at City of Hope, Edick began to keep a journal he hopes others can use as a blueprint for success when facing this battle. A typical entry:
“I believe this is all attitude, attitude, attitude – you have to live this one day at a time and accept it for what it is. To look at what might be in the future is to welcome unnecessary anxiety. BE PREPARED, but don’t live in the future.”
For patients undergoing radiation he had this advice:
“For the radiation mask: DON’T PANIC. This is a necessary part of the treatment that you have to warm up to. Bring an iPod, or use the one at City of Hope. I like to play good music while getting the treatment. This is a great time to practice letting go of control, mainly because you have none. Remember it’s only about 15 to 25 minutes in total treatment and this is what’s killing the cancer, this is what’s giving you a new shot at life.”
Sampath strongly believes Edick’s wisdom can help other patients going through the same thing.
“During the final few weeks of the radiation, it becomes less of a physical demand and more of a mental demand, in order to keep focus on the long-term goal of curing the cancer,” Sampath said. “Because I saw him keep such detailed records of his emotions of what was going on during his treatment, if his experience could be shared with others, it could have a huge impact on how patients handle chemo-radiation and the recovery that follows.”
Returned to health, Edick is currently training for the Long Beach Triathlon
Edick has been cancer-free since his six-month checkup in June. He says he has been given the opportunity of a lifetime and wants to share his experiences and his unique story so that others facing similar challenges come out on the other side stronger than ever.
What we can do is we can control our attitude and we can control our outlook,” Edick said.
“And that’s what I do differently today. When I start to get down, when I start to get nervous when something in my throat kinda feels different and I start to get afraid about that, I remember I’m a warrior. There are a lot of people that have done this before me, there are people coming behind me and I’m gonna march on and I’m gonna look to do good for others.”
Sampath hopes that others will heed Edick's story.
“I think having a patient-to-patient type of intervention could be more effective than me lecturing to somebody,” Sampath said. “And the fact that you’re hearing it from a patient who’s gone through it, patients may be able to relate to that better. We want to help patients handle treatment with a strong attitude and have them all turn out like Mr. Edick. We can’t obviously anticipate that but if we can identify the strong emotional barriers that exist, maybe we can improve our outcomes.”
A Beautiful Outcome
More and more people are getting this cancer,” Edick said. “They have to understand that it doesn’t have to be a life-ending deal, that there’s a big, bright light at the end of the tunnel and that with doctors and a great attitude, you can get through this way faster, way better, way stronger than you ever dreamed of.”
What truly motivates him now?
“I wanna help people that get this diagnosis, I want them to know that you can get this diagnosis and you can be afraid but let’s get you from afraid to a really great attitude, and look at me and know that you’re gonna be OK. It’s gonna be OK.
“My plan,” he continued, “was to come out of this super healthy, super strong and well intact and I want everybody else to know that they can do the same thing and not give up, to fight, fight, fight.”
In the end, Edick says, it’s as simple as this: “You have to expect a beautiful outcome for yourselves.”
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