We started our journey into this unknown terrain called “”head and neck”” cancer in March 2011. My oldest son, Jody, had a persistent sore throat. He saw his doctor who did not like what he saw and immediately sent him to a specialist, who diagnosed Jody with tonsil cancer. While there is a strong link to smoking and alcohol use, my son never smoked a cigarette and is not fond of alcohol.
After meeting with his team (an oncologist, radiologist, throat specialist, nurse navigator, social worker, and a swallowing counselor), Jody had his tonsil removed. Then an oral surgeon needed to remove all of his teeth prior to his radiation because of the potential for tooth decay from radiation near the mouth. A few weeks later he had a tube inserted into his stomach in case he became unable to eat or swallow. That turned out to be prophetic because he ended up not being able to do either.
Jody started his treatments in June, the day after his 52ndbirthday, at the Rosenfeld Cancer Center in Abington, Pennsylvania. While he was able to complete his radiation treatments, he was hospitalized after the second chemo treatment for poor kidney function and had to stop treatments. Throughout it all, Jody felt better in his own apartment and did not want to come and stay with me and his dad. His mornings were difficult and he didn’t want us to see that. His dad and I loved spending lots of quality time with Jody at his place when we could. Sometimes he didn’t feel like talking and that was fine with us. Just being there with him was a gift to us. We honored what he wanted and were aware of not staying too long. We wanted him to know we were there for him no matter what. Our daughters, Shannon and Courtney, who were devastated hearing of their big brother’s diagnosis, supported Jody in every way they could. Our friends have never left our sides during our devastating times, including the loss of two of our sons years ago, and they continue to walk with us on this leg of our journey.
When Jody was diagnosed, he found his team of doctors and nurses professional, knowledgeable, and supportive, yet I realized that I needed support to help my son fight this battle. Of course, I started checking out websites and lo and behold I came across The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation! I was surprised to see that particular name because Minnie Pearl was always a favorite of mine. I even got to see her in person at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville years ago. I looked no further for resources because I knew I had found what I was looking for. And I was right.
I called this nonprofit organization, spoke with an oncology social worker, and found that I finally knew the one angel who would help me along this journey. But I was wrong because there was another angel waiting in the wings – one of the organization’s registered dietitians. I always had a special feeling about angels and now I know angels are not only in heaven. They are also living in Nashville. My two angels called, emailed, sent me all kinds of literature and special cookbooks for Jody’s diet, and always gave me hope. They sent to me important links to help Jody with his financial stresses. Our angels never forgot about Jody or me. While we have never met in person, I feel as though I know them. Jody and I will never forget their kindness, caring, and support. Perhaps someday we will get to meet them in person. I believe they have the true spirit of Minnie Pearl who smiled at everyone and made everyone’s burden lighter with her presence.
As I look back on this journey that we started in March I realize that there have been some incredible positive outcomes. I have always thought of Jody as my “”sweet”” boy and he is that. Now I say “”he is my hero.”” His swallowing has improved and he is trying to eat more food and rely less on the feeding tube. As a mom, I find it very important to me to be able to look for ways to nourish my son.
When we all sit down for our holiday dinner this year, our prayers will be for all of those who walked with us on our journey. How delighted and grateful our family will be to watch Jody sitting at his rightful place at the head of the table being able to feel “”normal.”” As Jody wrote in a letter to The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation back in July, “”Your support of me as well as my family is in my heart and there you will always stay.””