Raising Awareness for Head and Neck Cancers
by Caitlund Davidson
When Michael was diagnosed with cancer, he was fortunate that he had people to talk to. They helped him prepare for the road ahead. Today, he shares his story in hopes of inspiring and helping others who may be going through a similar experience.
Michael’s cancer journey started with a sore on his tongue. It felt like a canker sore but it wasn’t going away. When he brought it to the attention of his family physician, Michael was sent for a series of biopsies. After two inconclusive tests, the third one gave him the answer – it was tongue cancer.
Michael’s heath care team took immediate action. The following week, he was on his way to Toronto for a consultation with his surgeon. Surgery was booked for two weeks later, which would remove part of his tongue (replaced with a graft) and lymph nodes on the right side of his neck. When he returned home to Thunder Bay, he had multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Due to severe side effects from treatment, Michael had to be hospitalized.
During his two month stay in the Hospital, Michael organized ’40 in 40’, a fundraiser to raise $40,000 in 40 days, in support of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Foundation’s Northern Cancer Fund with all funds going towards treatment and supports for patients with head and neck cancers. He sold tickets to Hospital staff while a team of others, including his family, friends, and colleagues collected donations from the community.
“Thunder Bay and its residents became so involved,” Michael reminisced. “I didn’t realize I had so much support; so many stepped forward to help.”
As a well-known hairdresser in the community, it was fitting that the fundraiser ended with a hair show featuring hairstyles through the decades. The fundraiser was a success and raised over $100,000.
Throughout his cancer journey, Michael was able to maintain a positive mindset. He able to stay positive thanks to the support he received from his wife, Rose, and the nurses and physicians at the Cancer Centre. Family and friends also played a big part in his recovery. “Some people sit in that chemo chair and lose hope,” Michael said. “I believe your attitude makes a huge difference in your recovery. My brother, uncle and close friends came to the Hospital often to play cards with me and try to keep my hopes up. I had many dark moments and people helped me push through. Don’t push them away – your family and friends will help you move forward.”
Michael has been cancer-free since March of 2014 but since then has been diagnosed with Capillary Lymphatic Syndrome and Cushing’s disease. He is receiving treatment for both of these conditions but remains in good spirits.
“I’m always worried – even though I am cancer free. I use all the possible ammunition in my repertoire to be healthy,” Michael shared. “I lift weights and ride my spin bike daily and I follow a plant-based diet.”
By sharing his cancer journey story, Michael is bringing attention to head and neck cancers so that individuals are aware of the signs and symptoms and can catch cancer early.
If you are looking for cancer-related resources, a good place to start is the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre Cancer Centre website at https://tbrhsc.net/programs-services/regional-cancer-care/.