By Janet Podolak

Madison resident Mark McHenry admits he was in denial when he found a lump in his neck beneath his jaw.

“My wife finally made me go to our family doctor, who did an ultrasound but didn’t find anything,” McHenry recalled.

He had experienced itching in the spot where the lump had appeared and figured it eventually would go away on its own.

But it didn’t.

“My wife pressured me to go back, and I was referred to Dr. (Michael D.) Gaugler, who did more tests and ordered a biopsy,” he said.

Gaugler, a Lake Health ear, nose and throat physician with Eastside ENT Specialists, diagnosed throat cancer after the biopsy, ordering a positron emission tomography scan to determine if it had metastasized. That PET scan revealed another tumor on McHenry’s adrenal gland.

“They needed to take care of that first before they could deal with the throat cancer,” McHenry said.

“It turned out to be benign, but they knew they’d be treating my throat cancer afterward,” McHenry said.

So doctors suggested a feeding tube be implanted at the time of his surgery to remove the adrenal gland.

“Once the treatment process got underway, I realized my doctors had everything well under control. And they were very thorough about explaining things every step of the way,” he said.

“My biggest fear at the outset was that I’d have to go into Cleveland several times a week for treatment,” he said. “But I had both my radiation and chemo at Lake Health Seidman Cancer Center in Mentor, and it wasn’t bad at all.”

Radiation oncologist Dr. Fredrick Barton explained that head and neck cancers are especially challenging for doctors because so many structures are close together in the head. He’s with Seidman facility in Mentor, a cancer center that has evolved to become a leader in head and neck cancer treatment.

“A tumor could be close to the brain, the optic nerve or the hearing centers,” Barton said. “During the course of treatment, patients often have significant side effects. Our management of hydration and nutrition helps them get through it.”

The team of doctors explained to McHenry that his throat cancer would be treated by a combination of radiation and chemotherapy, making his throat too sore to accommodate food. So that was why the feeding tube was implanted before it was needed.

“My wife had several relatives who died of cancer and I was thinking this could be really bad,” he said.

“But the treatments themselves weren’t that bad. I had them right in Mentor from mid-July to September, where their treatment rooms have big windows and aren’t unpleasant at all.”

He described the after-effects as “feeling blah.” His throat was burned by the radiation treatment, but even that didn’t hurt as badly as he’d anticipated. But he hadn’t known what to expect, so he arranged to take time away from his contract engineering job.

“I didn’t know how debilitating it would be,” he said. “But it wasn’t nearly as bad as I’d expected.”

McHenry lost weight during the six weeks he was nourished by a packaged meal replacement delivered through the feeding tube.

“But I could afford to lose weight, and now I’m trying to keep it off,” he said.

He was able to have the feeding tube removed before Thanksgiving so he could enjoy eating that the traditional way.

It’s now been a year since McHenry first was diagnosed, and he’s regained his energy and is feeling really fine.

“I have some taste issues, but it’s gradually returning. I’d rather win the lottery, but all in all, I feel pretty lucky,” he said, noting that getting treatment close to home made a real difference in terms of quality of life.

“Sometimes people must drive quite a distance for treatment of head and neck cancer,” Barton said. “That’s a real hardship for many patients.

“But because of the doctors and the equipment we have here we’re treating more head and neck cancers at Lake Health/Seidman Cancer Center in Mentor than anywhere else in Northeast Ohio,” he said. “Local doctors like Dr. Michael Gaugler refer many of our patients to us.”

He said these cancers, which used to be considered as largely caused by a lifestyle of heavy smoking and drinking, have undergone a fundamental change in recent years.

“Now we’re seeing more cancers of the throat, mouth and the base of the tongue caused by the sexually transmitted HPV virus,” he said. “Radiation usually plays a prominent role in the treatment.”

News-Herald (5/1/2014), Mentor cancer center becoming known for state-of-the-art treatment of challenging head and neck cancers