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The Story of Mr. and Mrs. Dance

September 21, 2017
Milton J. "Laddie" Dance, Jr. developed cancer of the larynx in 1975. Fearful that his livelihood as a horse auctioneer might be ended, he entered treatment. Five months after completing radiation therapy he developed cervical lymph node metastasis and underwent a radical neck dissection. He remained cancer free thereafter, until he succumbed to heart attack in 2002.

While today there are many sources of support groups to aid cancer patients in their search for further education, alternative therapies, hope and comfort, thirty years ago, when Laddie and his wife, Jeanne Vance, discovered that he had throat cancer, there seemed to be little support available. "Back then, you went to the doctor, obtained the diagnosis, had your surgery or therapy and that was about it," explained Ms. Vance. "It seemed so cold. We felt so alone, with no recourse, no support, and no hope. But we accepted it. You didn't ask any questions, you just did what you were told. The realm of our understanding of the scope of the disease, how to deal with it, and the course it could take was so limited back then. We needed more."

By nature, Laddie was a mover, a shaker and even a bit of a rabble-rouser at times, many would say. For a man who traveled in the circles of high society, politics and influential people, he was very well grounded — an enigma, several have called him. But that's what made him unique. That's what made him Laddie. He couldn't stop moving. Nothing seemed to stop or dampen his spirit and certainly not a bout with cancer, or so it seemed. Cancer has this way about it, eating away at your heart and gnawing at your soul, unless of course, you do something about it. And that's what Ms. Vance and Laddie did. "No one should endure these feelings alone without understanding and a helping hand," said Mrs. Vance. She founded an endowment that helped open a center in her husband's name.

Since 1980, the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Center at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center has provided comprehensive care to patients with head and neck cancer and their families. Today the Center includes the Head and Neck Surgery at GBMC, a historic practice started in 1924 by Dr. Grant E. Ward, multidisciplinary head and neck rehabilitation services, a full range of speech-language pathology services and a highly specialized voice center. Disciplines of head and neck surgery, laryngology, maxillofacial prosthodontics, oral medicine and pathology, nursing, speech-language pathology, nutritional services, and social work reside within the center. There is close collaboration with radiation oncology, medical oncology, occupational therapy and physical therapy. "We work hard to integrate as many disciplines necessary to offer a full complement of services with the goal of optimizing our patients recovery process and quality of life." Barbara Messing, M.A., CCC-SLP, BRS-S, the center's clinical-administrative director, leads a staff of professionals including speech language pathologists, oncology social workers, nurse specialists and oncology-registered dietitians. The center sponsors cancer research in the areas of salivary gland malignancies, tumor genetics and HPV studies through close collaboration with Johns Hopkins and outcomes research in the area of head and neck rehabilitation.

Laddie Dance saw life and the world as an opportunity — time that shouldn't be wasted on feeling sorry for oneself. "This was frequently evidenced by the spirit in his voice when he called an auction and the gleam in his eye when he saw a great horse, beautiful women or fantastic business opportunity," remarked his wife Jeanne.

Laddie knew horse breeds and lines better than some people know their own relatives. He was good at it because he did his homework. A 45-year employee of the thoroughbred auction firm, Fasig-Tipton, he loved and knew the art of auctioneering inside and out. Auctioneering came to him naturally, probably because his father, Milton J. Dance, Sr. was also a veteran of the profession. Mr. Dance was involved with horses throughout his life but special horses come around once in a lifetime. That occurred in 1999 for Laddie and Jeanne when their horse, Lemon Drop Kid, won all five New York stakes races including the Belmont Stakes in 1999.

Laddie Dance knew first-hand what it meant to be a head and neck patient. It was his goal to make it easier for those who would follow his path.

Jeanne Vance's and Laddie Dance's dream for cancer patients to see their future as an opportunity for hope and peace of mind is realized every day by the patients at the Milton J. Dance, Jr. Head and Neck Rehabilitation Center.
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