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A True Team Effort Restores Head and Neck Cancer Patient’s Health, and Confidence to Live Again

February 18, 2018
In 2007, Bruce Bradshaw, 70, discovered a lump on the side of his throat that he knew should not have been there. He went to his primary care physician to have it checked out and then had an ultrasound performed to get a better look. What they found was a malignant tumor on the base of Mr. Bradshaw’s tongue. He describes a whirlwind of events that landed him in the care of Marshall Levine, MD, medical oncologist at GBMC’s Sandra & Malcolm Berman Cancer Institute, and Ray Blanco, MD and John Saunders, MD [retired], head and neck surgeons in the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Center at GBMC. The daunting diagnosis was made in January 2007 and in March and April of that same year, Mr. Bradshaw was undergoing a powerful course of chemoradiation therapy at GBMC to eradicate the tumor and the cancer itself. In July 2007, He underwent surgery to have his lymph nodes removed on the side of his neck where the tumor was located by Dr. Blanco. And, while the treatment and surgery were successful in eliminating the cancer, Mr. Bradshaw was left with some debilitating and rare side effects of radiation treatment.

“I was one of only a few patients who experienced the closing of my esophagus as an extreme side effect of the radiation therapy,” explained Mr. Bradshaw. Mr. Bradshaw had 18 dilations performed by his surgeons to open up his esophagus over the course of a year. While the dilations worked temporarily, Mr. Bradshaw experienced the closure of his esophagus repeatedly following his treatment, causing extreme discomfort and resulting in the placement of a feeding tube because of his inability to eat or swallow. “The chemo and radiation got rid of the tumor. That was the easy part,” said Mr. Bradshaw. “The subsequent swallowing issues were the hardest part. I certainly don’t recommend this as a weight loss solution!” he joked.

Mr. Bradshaw praises the work of the Dance Center team, particularly Barbara Messing, M.A., CCC-SLP, BCS-S, Administrative-Clinical Director of the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Center. “I can’t say enough about Barbara. In the beginning, I was on a feeding tube and couldn’t swallow at all. She was patient and encouraging as she taught me exercises that helped me recover the ability to swallow over time. Ten years later, I’m still doing the exercises! She gave me all the confidence in the world. Without her, I don’t think I would have made it. I could call and talk to her whenever I needed her and she was there for me.”

Mr. Bradshaw’s head and neck cancer journey certainly changed his life, and so did his experience at The Dance Center at GBMC. “Everyone at the Dance Center was just great. The way everyone worked together as a team was incredible. I have all the praise in the world for them.”

He added, “Initially, when I was told I had advanced stage three cancer, I didn’t think I’d make it. But I’m here 10 years later. I’m still alive.”
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