September 23, 2018
Robert R. Cawley, D.O.
Dover, NH 03802
Jeff Hird first noticed a lump in his neck while he was shaving. “I had a CT scan that showed what was thought to be a benign cyst, but since it was so close to my carotid artery, surgery was recommended to remove it before it grew any larger,” he says. “It turned out that it was not a cyst, but a lymph node, and the post-surgery biopsy showed that I had cancer.”
Today Jeff says he feels “awesome” after receiving cancer treatment for tonsil cancer last year at the Seacoast Cancer Center at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. Although tobacco use is a leading cause of tonsil cancer, Jeff had never been a smoker. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is another major cause of one form of tonsil cancer called oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC).
HPV, a group of more than 150 related viruses, is so common that nearly all men and women are exposed to it. In most cases, HPV goes away, but when it doesn’t, it can cause many health problems including cancer. Recent advances including vaccines have reduced the risk of infection. But the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 9,000 people a year are diagnosed with HPV-related cancer of the head and neck.
In fact, tonsil cancer related to HPV is the fastest growing throat cancer, affecting mostly men ages 45-65, according to the National Cancer Institute. Experts are not sure why a virus in the tonsils is more likely to lead to cancer, but some speculate the crevices of the tonsils make it more difficult to clear an infection.
When Jeff received his diagnosis, he and his family carefully weighed their cancer treatment options. Wentworth-Douglass Hospital got rave reviews from friends as an exceptional cancer treatment center, especially from a close friend who had been treated for breast cancer at the Seacoast Cancer Center. “I met with Dr. Barbara Civiello and immediately felt so comfortable and knew right away that she had my best interests at heart,” he says. “She actually encouraged me to get a second opinion at a Boston hospital where I confirmed that I would get the exact same course of treatment locally at Wentworth-Douglass.”
For Jeff, this meant two separate surgeries to remove the lymph node and tonsils, followed by chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation treatments.
“The radiation therapists were so upbeat and such good listeners,” Jeff says. “For example, I was not fully prepared for how loud the machine is, so they offered me different options to help drown out the sound. I chose to listen to upbeat music.”
Radiation treatment had additional side effects for Jeff. “I had a hard time producing saliva, so every other day or so, I would get ‘topped off’ and get an IV infusion of saline in order to stay hydrated,” he says. “I felt so fortunate that the Infusion Center is part of the Seacoast Cancer Center.”
Jeff, along with his family members, appreciated the convenience and coordination of his cancer care. “The Seacoast Cancer Center is located right at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital, so you can get all your tests and other services at one place,” he says. “You get to know the people, and they get to know you. That was huge for me, knowing that all the services I would need were just down the hallway.”
He cites several examples of his seamless cancer treatment, including access to the hospital’s endoscopy team who managed his temporary feeding tube, and the practitioner who employed integrative therapy techniques to help boost saliva production. “I tapped into all those extras that can have such a big impact, including the friendly pet visits that really helped break up my eight-hour treatment day,” Jeff says. “I found it a comfort knowing that the Center was there for me as a cancer patient.”
According to Jeff, the Seacoast Cancer Center was his best choice as a cancer treatment center. “They treat each patient and their families with such a caring and welcoming attitude,” he says. “My dad is 90 years old and went to a radiation treatment with me. They were so kind to him, making sure throughout the entire day that he was okay. I can honestly say I miss the nurses now that I don’t see them every day.”
Jeff has offered to mentor other patients. “I’ve been a coach for youth through college club hockey for 17 years, so if I can help someone, if I have something to offer, I am happy to do that,” he says. “I am so grateful for the standard of care at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital. And it can only get even better with the new Massachusetts General Hospital partnership.”
Jeff was also among the cancer survivors who participated in the Seacoast Cancer Center 5K race on Sunday, September 24, to support cancer care services at Wentworth-Douglass Hospital.
“I feel great. I am all-over healthier now than I was before the cancer diagnosis,” Jeff says. “I’ve lost some weight and I’m running again for the first time in years. That, to me, says it all – I have a renewed lease on life.”
To learn more about the Seacoast Cancer Center, call (603) 742-8787 or visit wdhospital.com/cancer.