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Ester Marsh: Metastatic squamous cell carcinoma is not something you want to hear

In the middle of June, I noticed my left lymph node in my neck was swollen. No big deal. When I have a sore throat or a cold, it typically swells. However, this time, no sore throat, no cold, or any other illness that would make it swell up like it did in the past.

Not too worried, but when I had my annual physical with my general physician, Dr. Acquawon Stallworth (whom I love!) on Aug. 2, she ordered an ultrasound on the lymphnode.

During this time, I had a bad case of vertigo (remember the column from a few weeks ago?) and went to see Dr. Leighanne Dorton, who is with Charlotte Eye Ear Nose & Throat Associates off Julian Road. When my test results came back (also I love Novant’s MyChart!) I needed a needle biopsy.

Dr. Dorton did those and ordered a CT scan. The initial findings of my biopsy were benign but the CT scan was still pending. When they came back, the two didn’t match.

Dr. Dorton was right from the get-go — and yes, I love her too!

So, an ultrasound-guided biopsy was ordered. That was with Dr. Capito at Novant Rowan Regional two weeks ago, and it was another wonderful experience.

The initial results came back through MyChart and it said I did not have lymphoma. Hallelujah, one down! More results were expected. So on Wednesday evening two weeks ago, I read my results and it said that metastatic squamous cell carcinoma was found in the lymph node … it was the secondary site so we had to figure out where the primary site was.

I am a non-smoker and consider myself very healthy. Throat cancer? … Come to find out mine was originated by the HPV=human papillomavirus infection. It’s a virus that all three of my children are vaccinated for. Cervical cancer is usually caused by the HPV virus. One of my best friends and gynecologist Dr. Jesse Blumenthal has been on top of it. She knows my family history (lots of cancers) and that I have had bad pap smears due to the HPV virus. She is not only one of my best friends, but she has also been my amazing advocate during this process of cancer in the throat.

Did you know that the vaccination to prevent HPV prevents 9 of the 13 aggressive cancers caused by HPV? As I mentioned, all three of my kids got the Gardasil vaccination. And now, more than ever, I am so happy I chose to get them vaccinated for that, because if that option was there for me, I would not have had this cancer.

So do total research on challenging subjects such as the Gardasil vaccinations. Look at every aspect and know that my cancer would not be happening if I would have had the opportunity to receive this vaccine.

But I have great news, and that is that exercise is the best medicine. A PET scan was ordered, and my cancer is “only” in my left tonsil and left lymph node. I met with my surgeon, Dr. Villaret at CEENTA, who does these kinds of surgeries all the time and his response seeing the PET scan and my great health (yeah for exercise and eating healthy) at this point all we need to do is remove the left side lymph nodes and left tonsil.

If the margins are clean, no radiation will be needed. Boy, that is great news!

As many of you know, my sister is a breast cancer survivor and my mom died of melanoma. The time you know it’s cancer and the time you know what you are dealing with is very stressful. Finally having “a plan” is such a relieve. I have seen my sister and one of my best friends go through cancer treatments, and my mother, and the same best friend die of cancer….hearing mine can be “fixed” by just surgery, that’s a true blessing!

Thank you for all your prayers, kind thoughts and support. They truly work!

Ester H. Marsh is Health & Fitness Director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.

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