Lawrence's Story - Throat Cancer

HPV p16 Throat Cancer Patient Story - Robotic Surgery
UCLA Health article

Testimonial: Robotic HPV p16 Throat Cancer Surgery

“I was not a smoker or drinker by the way, just a healthy 55-year-old with HPV P 16 throat cancer that met the best Doctor in Maie St John and here today and for the next 30yrs to talk about it.” —Lawrence

Hi, my name is Lawrence Fine, I am here to talk to you about why I chose a special surgeon, Dr. Maie St John, at UCLA Head and Neck cancer surgery. Dr Maie St John is a head and neck surgeon who has a resume above and beyond Doctors in her field; google her:)

What was important to me and should be to you is that she is Board Certified in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck and is very experienced in head and neck cancer treatments. I wanted a Doctor that has great expertise in the treatment of throat and tonsil cancer.

Robotic surgery of the head and neck and robotic throat cancer surgery is her expertise. This type of surgery requires special training to make sure you have excellent outcomes. This expertise would minimize my chances of complications after surgery and my treatment yet to come. When I looked her up, I noted that Dr. St. John also specializes in cancer of the oral cavity, throat, oropharynx, tongue, tonsil, larynx, and palate. This was important to me since I had no point of origin, yet I had three positive lymph nodes with metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. I needed someone that knew how to navigate through my throat to find my primary tumor or tumors.

So, let me tell who I saw and what I did before my journey started with Dr Maie St John and her amazing team.

I was first diagnosed with my cancer in my mouth and throat at Mission Hospital near my home in Laguna Niguel CA. The diagnosis was metastatic squamous cell carcinoma, HPV unequivocal. I than decided after disbelief that I needed a second opinion. I had a PET scan and a CT head and neck scan which showed three positive lymph nodes. I than went to an ENT friend at Hoag hospital, who recommended surgery immediately and Chemo and radiation treatment. He was not under my insurance plan Cigna PPO, therefore he recommended USC Keck cancer center. I again was told that I needed surgery ASAP, CHEMO AND RADIATION. Again, I was not comfortable with his diagnosis nor treatment options, so I decided to go to the City of Hope for one more opinion. This appointment turned out to be a disaster because I was completely misdiagnosed and would have undergone an entirely wrong treatment which would have compromised my survival. So, working in the medical field I chose to research the Mayo clinic and what options they had available. After speaking to the Doctor over a live consult, he recommended a 3-part treatment; surgery of the throat, radical neck dissection and two weeks of chemo and or radiation twice a day. This would be for a new study that the Mayo clinic was doing with some great results, yet it wasn’t the standard of care. He then said I had no guarantee I would be approved because it was almost like pulling a name out of a hat LOL because it was a trial. So that wasn’t going to work. Therefore, I pulled up UCLA who I also had experience with working as a cardiac sales rep in open heart surgery. When I looked up the Chair of head and neck surgery, I saw Dr Maie St John and her fantastic resume. Knowing that her credentials were above and beyond all I have seen so far, I needed to meet her asap.

Lawrence Fine, HPV p16 Throat Cancer UCLA Patient

During my visit with Dr Maie St John she had reviewed extensively my entire medical records which included , MRI , CT Head and Neck Scan, PET scan and tissue Biopsies and came to the immediate conclusion that I had great chances of getting past this and doing well.

So, what does that mean, it meant that she explained to me in detail the steps she had mapped out to make sure I would survive. Dr. St. John explained that the surgery, yet difficult she was sure she would find the point of origin, primary tumor or tumors and get the margins. She looked straight into my face telling me honestly and openly based her experience. The confidence she had in her abilities was not egotistical, but she was very confident in her abilities. If I remember correctly, I flew out of my chair into her arms and I said you are my Dr. She also went on to tell me a second part of the surgery which would require the removal of several lymph nodes in the neck called a modified radical neck dissection. Her honesty throughout all my questions and believe me I had a lot of them, she never lost her patience or focus. She kept me calm and confident. She had my back all the way.

It’s scary getting cancer, but for the first time I wasn’t scared of the unknown because Dr. St. John explained everything to me and my family, so we were all on the same page. Fast forward to Aug 7 the day of the robotic surgery; both tonsils removed, all adenoids, tongue biopsies and part of the right pharynx all removed with a 100 % recovery. Let’s just say after 2 weeks I was playing tennis again 5 days a week with no issues, swallowing, talking, moving my tongue etc.

I have been a medical sales representative in cardiac surgery for 27 yrs. and I have seen a lot of Open-heart surgeries and have relationships with several great cardiac surgeons. Dr Maie St John had a bed side manor different than all the Doctors I met throughout my interviewing process at all the hospitals mentioned above. She cared about me, she genuinely cared about me, I could feel it the day she hugged me and said we will do this together and you will be ok. I wasn’t just another cancer patient, another surgery she was going to do, I was part of her family. She said I was stuck with her forever because of the follow ups for the next 5 yrs. when they call you cancer free and get to ring the bell.

Fast forward one more time to today 6/1/2020. I am 6 months post radiation treatment and I am fine. My taste buds are back, my saliva glands, my swallowing, speech all functions of my throat are 95 % back to normal and will continue the last 5% hopefully from this day forward to a 100% recovery. I owe this to Dr Maie St John and her team, she was always available by email if I had any questions or concerns and she continues to be on the cutting edge in her research to make throat cancer hopefully one day a thing of the past. I was not a smoker or drinker by the way, just a healthy 55-year-old with HPV P 16 throat cancer that met the best Doctor in Maie St John and here today and for the next 30yrs to talk about it.

If you or your family need someone to talk to, or have questions please do not hesitate to email me at [email protected]

God Speed to all cancer folks reading this testimony and to your families. Just remember you got this and don’t let anyone tell you differently, it’s all in the power of the mind.

Video: After 2 weeks, I was playing tennis (red cap, white shorts) again 5 days a week with no issues, swallowing, talking, moving my tongue.

What is HPV?

Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), HPV Vaccine, and Throat Cancer