John's Story - Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Cutaneous Squamous Cell Carcinoma Patient Story
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"In my personal experience, Dr. Maie St. John is an absolutely world-class head and neck surgeon and medical research scientist, and a most wonderful human being." —John

Testimonial of My Experience with Dr. Maie St. John

John Montroy, July 1, 2023

On March 20, 2023, Dr. Maie St. John performed extensive and complicated surgery on my scalp and neck, to help me fight cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC). I have high hopes that she may have saved me from a very bad outcome and significantly extended my life. If anyone could do it, Dr. St. John would be the one. Only God knows and time will tell.

This letter is to describe my experience, and how by the grace of God, I came to meet and be treated by the most wonderful surgeon and human being: Dr. Maie St. John.

In April 2022, I was treated by a local surgeon for a cSCC recurrence. cSCC recurrence is unusual, but much more likely since I have CLL. The local pathology report said 100% clear. Over the course of 2022, I intuitively knew something was wrong, but the local doctors simply pointed to the pathology report and said no, you are imagining it, it can’t be. Treatment was obviously urgently needed, but there was confusion, equivocation, and total lack of communication among the local surgeons and specialists I was seeing and trying to coordinate.

Finally, in February 2023, after 10 months of frustration with the local doctors, I asked my CLL oncologist, Dr. Slomowitz, if he thought I was doing everything I could do to help myself; should I be seeking treatment somewhere else? Thankfully Dr. Slomowitz is excellent, he listened, and he heard me. He said he thought the local care was fine, but he knew of Dr. Maie St. John at UCLA, and he would try to make an introduction and get me in to see her for another opinion. I was not too enthusiastic, since it is difficult drive to UCLA and I was pretty disillusioned. Later that day, I looked up Dr. St. John’s bio on the UCLA Head and Neck Department website and thought- wow, this looks amazing, and seems to be exactly what I need! I became excited at the prospect that there was a better path than the one I was on.

Things happened very quickly- Dr. St. John’s office called ME, and three days later at the end of February, I had a consultation with Dr. St. John. I can only describe my experience there as “next level”, and “world class”, a world apart from the local care system I had been experiencing. With an aura of seriousness, expertise, and compassion, Dr. St. John came into the exam room with her team of nurse practitioners and assistants, and I was immediately overwhelmed with a feeling that I had come to the right place, and I would get the help I needed. Dr. St. John reviewed my information, examined me, and simply said: “ I will review your case at the tumor board TOMORROW afternoon, if you can get all your pathology samples here by 8am, otherwise we will review it in 7 days and make a plan for your treatment”. I was stunned and exuberant at the seriousness and lightning speed- this was the doctor for me. She then literally on the spot called her colleague in dermatology (one floor down), the wonderful Dr. Theresa Soriano, and personally asked her to make time to see me- THAT AFTERNOON- for a complete dermatological work-up including biopsies. My head was spinning with the amount of focus, care, coordination, and communication. As I was leaving, Dr. St. John touched my arm, looked at me, and said: “We can help you with this”. That was very impactful and I knew she meant it, and that she would. Over the next 2 weeks, Dr. St. John’s office sent me to see her colleague and department co-chair, Dr. Nabili, who is a world-class head and neck reconstructive surgeon, and to Dr. Chin, one of the UCLA radiation oncologists, all in preparation for my treatment of surgery and adjuvant radiation therapy.

On March 20, Dr. St. John and Dr. Nabili performed an extensive, complex surgery on my head and neck. Dr. St. John spoke to me and my wife before surgery, and her serious, calm, but very compassionate and warm manner made us both feel very confident and comfortable. Nominally expected to take about 2.5 hours, the surgery actually took almost 5.5 hours. I truly believe that I could not have received a better surgery anywhere in the world. Dr. St. John had to make a “game time call” during surgery and remove a section of muscle and nerve; there was incredible teamwork under Dr. St. John’s leadership, and Dr. Nabili was able to perform a highly complex nerve graft to help restore muscle function, and was able to close my 10-inch surgical incision without any skin grafts. I healed perfectly within four weeks. I have now completed 6 weeks of radiation therapy, and look forward to seeing Dr. St. John for a follow up in September. I am recovering well, and feeling strong and optimistic.

In my personal experience, Dr. Maie St. John is an absolutely world-class head and neck surgeon and medical research scientist, and a most wonderful human being. Although worldrenowned and unequivocally a leader at the top of her incredibly complex and competitive field, Dr. St. John interacts with a quiet humbleness, kindness, and calming compassion. She instills comfort and confidence in an otherwise very stressing and fearful situation. And most importantly, Dr. Maie St. John is an incredibly serious, formidable force against disease, who each day dedicates her energy, skills, and talents to helping people recover from debilitating and deadly afflictions.

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