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Difficulty Swallowing Leads to Head and Neck Cancer Diagnosis

October 02, 2019

"I feel like I’ve been given a second chance at life,” says Joan Cummings, who is now in her third year of remission after being diagnosed with cancer of the mouth.

“I’m very grateful to The University of Kansas Cancer Center ... the staff has so much knowledge. I tell everyone that if they know a person with cancer, they should go here.”

It is clear that Joan knows how to enjoy life, even during her long journey to recovery. After her treatment at the hospital, she spent 2 uncomfortable years with a tracheotomy and feeding tube.

That meant almost 2 years without any food or water passing her lips.

Still, Joan was able to bake and cook for others – including the cancer center staff and doctors.

Feeding others was almost as rewarding as eating the creations herself.

“Once, I told her I didn’t like a certain type of cake, so she made a different one,” laughs Beth Haines, RN, who was part of the team caring for Joan.

Joan’s own experience began with difficulty swallowing. With the instincts of a person who “never gets sick,” she knew her problem was more serious than tonsils.

The ear, nose and throat specialist who diagnosed her cancer referred her to Terance Tsue, MD, who specializes in head and neck cancer at the cancer center.

“He told me I was going to need reconstructive surgery and that Dr. Tsue was tops,” she says.

Before performing surgery on nodes in Joan's neck, though, Dr. Tsue wanted to shrink the tumor with chemotherapy and radiation.

So Joan worked with a cancer center medical oncologist and radiation oncologist to prepare for the surgical part of her treatment.

Joan has returned to part-time receptionist work at Multivac, Inc. She praises the care and support she received from staff in the cancer center and the inpatient oncology unit, Unit 42, where she was hospitalized several times.

“It’s amazing how these people can lift you up and help you,” she says, mentioning her nurses, social worker and dietitian by name. She became especially close to one of her nurses.

“I discovered so many new and wonderful things during my illness. In addition to my faith, I had so much support from the people at the hospital, my family and my friends to get me through it all.”

Request your appointment today.

To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.

As with all treatments, individual patient results vary. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.

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