TEAM HEAD AND NECK CANCER
My name is Whitney. I’m a registered dietitian who works at Mary Washingon Hospital. In 2005, I was as a dietetic intern in a Cancer Center in Cleveland, Ohio, not knowing what I wanted to do with my career. My interest in nutrition during cancer treatment was sparked when I watched a large group of patients with head and neck cancer undergo cancer treatment. If you’ve ever heard someone say they have had tongue or throat cancer, or if you heard about the actor Michael Douglas’s battle with cancer – these are head and neck cancers.
Head and neck cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the United States. In 2016, it is estimated 61,760 people (45,330 men and 16,430 women) will develop head and neck cancer. The HPV virus is now the cause of most head and neck cancers in the United States.
These patients have always inspired me. The courage and strength these individuals show during a grueling treatment is anything but unbelievable. A lot of patients get feeding tubes placed before treatment because the side effects they experience during treatment make it highly unlikely they will be able to eat or swallow (which is where a registered dietitian comes in the picture). Each patient has his/her own different challenges but a lot of similar side effects at various points – thrush/severe sore throat, thick mucous that is nauseating and relentless, dry mouth, significant weight loss and dehydration. Hydration may be needed several times a week because a patient cannot eat and maintain nutrition. Facial disfigurement and issues with talking may also occur due to surgeries received or the tumor itself. These patients have it bad.
Providing a cancer patient with compassion and assurance that everything will be just fine is a huge part of anyone’s job who cares for someone with cancer. Not only do I want to help these patients but I want to spread awareness. Awareness will also mean that future patients will have more support.
My husband and I made and tie-dyed t-shirts the first year for the team. We made two small ones for my daughter, Parker, and son, Wilson. Previously, I had spoken with a few of my head and neck cancer survivors about having a team and the interest was there. We had close to 20 people on our team on year 1, I’m hoping to continue to grow that number every year. I will continue to support these courageous individuals as long as I can.
Thanks to Dennis, Paul, Wes, Larry, David, Darnell & Donald– you guys are awesome!