In December 2011, my husband, Jeff, felt a lump in his throat. At first it was bothersome but by January, he began having difficulty swallowing. His general practitioner said he couldn’t see anything in his throat, chalked it up to “post nasal drip,” and prescribed nose spray. Jeff continued to feel the lump growing but his doctor still couldn’t tell him what was wrong. By February, eating became painful. In March, I insisted he see a Head and Neck specialist who immediately identified a tumor in Jeff’s throat. Two days later, the biopsy came back positive: you have cancer.
How could Jeff have throat cancer? He was healthy, athletic, never smoked. He couldn’t possibly be sick.
The diagnosis: HPV-16 squamous cell carcinoma or throat cancer.
It was too late for surgery.
We met the oncologist and Jeff prepared for seven weeks of simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy.
During the course of Jeff’s diagnosis and treatment, I spent hours on the Internet researching information about HPV throat cancer. Who gets it? What’s the prognosis? Why had we never heard about it before? What I learned was frightening: according to the American Society of Clinical Oncologists, by 2020, the number of HPV throat cancer cases will surpasses those of cervical cancer.
In fact, HPV-related oropharyngeal cancer cases outpaced cervical cancer cases five years earlier than predicted, in 2015.
Yet it’s not common knowledge.
As a wife, I found information about HPV throat cancer to be fragmented across the Internet, often written in dense medical terms, and difficult for the ordinary patient and caregiver to compile and comprehend.
As a journalist, I knew I could use my news gathering, writing, and video skills to help others who will be fighting HPV throat cancer like our family. During the course of Jeff’s treatment, I often felt so helpless.