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It's Holiday Time: The Gift of Life

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By Ed Steger

ED1STPOST.jpgEd Steger was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in 2005. After 36 radiation treatments, 2 years in palliative care and 5 surgeries he is now in remission. He blogs about living with head and neck cancer at www.hncancer.blogspot.com.

In order to give back to the medical team that saved him, Ed is currently a SPORE Patient Research Advocate at MD Anderson.


Today, Dec. 13, 2011, is my five-year cancerversary. I was originally diagnosed in April, at age 53, with stage III/IV head and neck cancer at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Throughout my cancer journey, the largest setback came five years ago today. Here's my story.

Difficult journey

Between April 2005 and December 2006, I had 36 IMRT radiation treatments, Taxol chemotherapy and four surgeries. One surgery that I often refer to as the "salvage surgery" lasted 12 hours and was followed by two terrifying days in the ICU and a week longer stay in the hospital.

At the time, it was either this surgical procedure or getting my affairs in order. After careful deliberation, driven largely by wanting to see my 12-year-old daughter grow up along with strong encouragement and support from my family, I chose the salvage surgery that took place on July 12, 2006.

It was an incredibly difficult surgery involving the removal of my left side jaw bone, a large section on my upper esophagus, part of my soft palate and a piece of my tongue.  

If that wasn't enough, my tibia bone was cut from my leg to replace the portion of my jaw that was removed, necessitating a skin graft on the tibia area.

I recovered from this ordeal relatively quickly. By October, through a lot of determined, physical effort, I had the tracheotomy apparatus and feeding tube removed. By December, my life was getting back to normal.

Just six months after this major surgery, I was actually feeling great. To test myself, I made a trip out West to visit friends and enjoyed a round of golf on the beautiful Monterrey, California peninsula.

There was life after surgery.

Visit with my surgeon changed everything

A CT scan followed by a clinic visit with my surgeon on Dec. 13, 2006, changed all that. The scan revealed five inoperable hot spots. Once again, I was faced with getting my affairs in order. With help from MD Anderson's Palliative Care Unit, I prepared to let go of life and begin the process of dying.

But, as one who believes in having a Plan B, I also visited my MD Anderson oncologist.

One week later, I began an intensive chemotherapy regimen. During the next eight months, I had the proverbial kitchen sink of chemotherapy agents thrown at me: Cetuximab, Docetaxel, Cisplatin, Avastin, Tarceva, more Taxol, Carboplatin and GEMZAR.

It may sound random, but it wasn't. My oncologist and surgeon were monitoring me carefully and modifying my treatment based on my responses. Ten months later and after setbacks that required two relatively minor surgeries, I was declared as having no evidence of disease (NED).  

The five inoperable hot spots literally melted away. That was in October 2007, more than four years ago! Two years ago, I was reclassified as being in remission.

So, this holiday season, I have the gift of life.

I was able to see my daughter graduate from high school last May and begin the next stage of her life as a beautiful young woman and a college freshman.

It has been hard, but it's so worth it.

I intend to keep moving forward and giving back, in my own unique way, to the community who made it possible for me to be here today. I am so very grateful for the untiring efforts of my medical team at MD Anderson.  

For all those who have participated with me in this journey, including physicians, researchers, support staff and my spouse, family and friends, I wish you a happy holiday season and thank you with all that I have for this generous and unbelievable gift.

Read more posts by Ed Steger.

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