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Ear Cancer Survivor Goes Full Speed Ahead

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bike.jpgFor Scott Goodman, halfway is never enough. His intensity bursts through into everything he does -- his way of speaking, his job, his love of life and family -- even his exercise regimen.

So, when he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the ear canal, Goodman knew he wanted his treatment to be as aggressive as possible.

Squamous cell cancer that begins inside the ear is extremely rare. So rare, in fact, that it's not clear how many cases occur each year. However, Paul Gidley, M.D., associate professor in MD Anderson's departments of Head and Neck Surgery and Neurosurgery, estimates that only some 300 cases are diagnosed every year in the United States.

Diagnosis puzzled doctors
One day in 2007, as Goodman stood in front of the bathroom mirror preparing for work, he did something your mother and doctors probably have told you a million times not to do. He put a Q-tip in his ear.

"When I took the Q-tip out of my left ear, there was blood on it," he says. "That's not what you expect to see, and I knew it wasn't normal."

Goodman, who describes himself as "49 years young," is a consultant who helps start, develop and grow surgical device companies. He is on friendly terms with many doctors, and he made an appointment as soon as possible with an ENT (ear, nose and throat) doctor (also known as an otolaryngologist).

The doctor saw a growth in Goodman's ear and removed tissue from it for a biopsy. The result stumped him; he never had seen or even heard of the type of cancer cells. He referred Goodman to a specialist at a cancer center close to where Goodman lives in Louisville, Ky.

"The specialist said he had heard of the cancer and believed he had the skill set to treat it -- but he never had," Goodman says. "That's when I knew I really was in trouble."

Aggressive treatment carried risks
When Goodman found he had ear cancer, he got to work searching for the best place to be treated.

"Everyone wanted to do partial this and partial that," he says. "The doctors at MD Anderson wanted to be more aggressive -- and I did, too."

This meant surgical removal of the eardrum and canal, temporal bone, parotid gland and several lymph nodes in his neck. Gidley and Erich Sturgis, M.D., associate professor in the departments of Head and Neck Surgery and Epidemiology at MD Anderson, warned Goodman of possible side effects and a long, arduous recovery.

Although he knew the road back to "normal" would be a challenge, Goodman was confident he had the mental and physical stamina to handle whatever the surgery threw at him.

"I have a large support group of family and friends, and I've always been a healthy man," he says. "I'm very active and had even ridden in four 500-mile bike marathons. The month before the surgery, I worked out twice a day so I could be as strong as possible."

Recovery was extensive
The eight-hour procedure was a success. Since a wide margin of tissue around the tumor was removed, Goodman was able to avoid radiation and chemotherapy.

"Sturgis was such a good surgeon that he was able to put me back together without the need for reconstruction," Goodman says. "He formed skin flaps to cover the orifice where my ear used to be."

True to the doctors' predictions, recovery was a challenge, and almost four years later Goodman feels that he still is healing.

"I couldn't blink for about three months because my facial nerves just wouldn't work," he says. "It took about a year to feel halfway normal, and even now I'm getting better every day."

Intensity is channeled into inspiring others
Goodman's facial function is normal now, though he copes with occasional eye fatigue and ear pain. He says he sometimes feels like cement has been poured into his ear. But that doesn't stop him from what he considers his new life mission: reaching out to other cancer patients.

"When I come back to MD Anderson, my personal goal is to talk to everyone in the ENT clinic, especially young people," he says. "My calling is to uplift, encourage and give them strength. I let them know there is hope."

Back to intense workouts and enjoying life full throttle, Goodman sees his glass as not only half full, but brimming over.

"Every day I put my best foot forward and do the best I can," he says. "I'm healthy, whole and well. I can hear, I'm alive, and I'm cancer-free."

Related story:
Q&A: Ear and Temporal Bone Cancers
Cancer of the ear and temporal bone are rare, and they can be difficult to diagnose and challenging to treat. Yet, progress is being made in finding out what drives these diseases and how to approach them more successfully.

8 Comments

Scott Goodman sounds like a fantastic ambassador for MDAnderson ENT. I am thrilled by his story. Three weeks ago I had a lateral temporal bone resection for an aggressive SCC. Unfortunately the margins were not clear and there was facial nerve involvement. Working on RT and CT to start soon. I would love to hear from such a motivational survivor of this disease.

Hi I went through the same kind of surgery in June 2011 at the age of 49. I had radical surgery to remove my ear, ear drum and bones, jaw joint, nodes and glands. My surgery was much longer than first thought as SCC had grown into my dura surrounding the brain and therefore lasted 14 hours. I had seven weeks of radiotherapy shortly after and I am doing really well. I have always thought how lucky I am to be alive and I live life to the full. I have had huge support from family and friends. I am going in for surgery next week for a few alterations to reduce my abdominal free flap and lift my left eye as they had to cut the nerve which pulls up my brow. I might also be getting a titamium jaw joint put in but I won't know this for another few days. After that I hopefully will be getting a baha fitted to al;ow me to hear again. My friend has one and she is a teacher and a musician! All I can say is that life is good and I have had 2 clear CT scans. So hopefully it's onwards and upwards. I didn't have CT as my cancer was only in 1 node which was right next to the tumor but I did everything I was told to do and not to do whilst undergoing my RT like, drinking loads of water, puting my aqueous cream on regularly, getting plenty of rest and staying off all alcohol. Please don't hesitate to contact me if you want to ask me any questions. Another thing that I think helped me to recover was that I have never lost my sense of humour and I am an optimist.

Barbara,
I just read your post and I am wondering how everything turned out.. My dad is 66 years old and has SCC of the temple. It is extremely rare and aggressive. He is going through RT and CT right now with 11 RT left and 2 CT. We just received news that the cancer was moving faster than the treatment and that there was little that they could do. The cancer is only moving inward from where it originated, and has not moved any where else in the body. We live in a small town and are looking for recommendations as to what else might be available in the US. Can you recommend a doctor that helped you.. We are looking into the Anderson Cancer Center.

I was just diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in the ear canal. I'm currently getting tests so we can stage this. Very scared right now, and not sure what is going to happen. I'm a 54 year old woman

I'm so sorry to hear this, Joanne. Please call MD Anderson's health information specialists at 1-877-632-6789. They will be able to provide you with more information. Please let us know if you need anything else. You're in the thoughts and prayers of all of us here at MD Anderson.

In reading Scott's story and others it helped my husband know that what he was feeling in his head was not just him. In June 2013, he was diagnosed with scc under his ear. He had a 12 hour surgery to remove his ear, canal and drum. Had skin graph and muscle relocation from chest. 30 radiation treatments for precaution. Surgeon was awesome and got all tumor and no cells in any of lymph nodes. As Scott described his head still feels like cement inside and still has much pain. We will have a pet scan in feb 2014. How long does this pain or cement feel last? He is 59 yrs old and sometimes so negative. His nerves are shot. Praying for you all!

We're so sorry to hear this. Unfortunately, we can't give medical advice via the Internet. Please call our health information specialists at 1-877-632-6789. They can provide you with more information or help you schedule an appointment. Your husband is in our thoughts and prayers. I hope he's feeling better soon.

How did you cope with the pain and the nausea and vomiting if any? (Besides the meds) Were there tricks that helped to deal with those that anyone would be willing to share please?

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