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Fighting Head and Neck Cancer with Military Precision

Head and neck cancer patient Greg Cheek.

October 02, 2019

Gregory Cheek knows about battles. He served in the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, and is currently a plans officer at the U.S. European Command Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

But there is no military skirmish or exercise that can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis like Greg faced in spring 2010.

Greg had been experiencing severe throat pain for several weeks. He saw a local physician and was told it was a throat infection. But a few weeks later, when he began coughing up blood, a throat biopsy showed cancer. The diagnosis: squamous cell cancer at the base of his tongue.

As a career military man, Greg confronted his diagnosis with strategic precision. He did his research and sought treatment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

“My ex-wife was treated at The University of Kansas Cancer Center in 2003 for leukemia and we were impressed with the care she received,” he says.

Strategic head and neck cancer treatment

Greg, of Kansas City, Missouri, worked with cancer center experts to map out a plan of attack. He joined forces with a team of oncologists and medical specialists who developed a personalized care plan to treat his cancer. Otolaryngologist Lisa Shnayder, MD, handled his care.

“I liked the fact that my head and neck surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist and support care team were all under one roof,” Greg says. He also valued the honest and open communication among his caregivers, who he said appeared to coordinate their roles seamlessly.

“Each one of them told me we’d be carefully following a plan designed to make sure I’d be OK,” he says.

Greg’s treatment included 3 weeks of chemotherapy followed by 8 weeks of radiation in fall 2010. In early 2011, when a PET scan indicated that the cancer might have reached Greg's lymph nodes, Dr. Shnayder recommended surgery.

“Surgery to remove any remaining suspicious neck lymph nodes often gives patients like Greg the best outcome,” explains Dr. Shnayder.

Stay the course

“I took their advice, followed the plan and am happy to report that I feel good and am keeping busy,” says Greg.

After his head and neck cancer treatment, he published a book about his cancer experience. Currently, Greg is writing a second book. He also actively runs and has 9 marathons to his credit, works full-time, teaches college classes and does public speaking.

His first book, Three Points of Contact, is about the care he received and how he personally dealt with his cancer.

“I thought if I shared the story of my struggle and how important it was to have a skilled team of cancer professionals at my side, it might help other patients going through a similar challenge."

As a veteran, Gregory Cheek knows about battles. But there is no military skirmish or exercise that can prepare you for a cancer diagnosis like Greg faced in spring 2010. This is his story.

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