In the year 2000, at the ripe old age of 65, having experienced near-perfect health for my entire life, I was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma tumor on my left tonsil. It had metastasized. Within a few days of finding the tumor, the cancer team at Stanford University Hospital removed it. Three months of radiation therapy followed, three times each week. My life was radically changed from that time on.
I was an east-coaster having survived a Jesuit military high school education in New York City. Engineering college followed. With diploma in hand, I headed for California and spent 10 years as one of those often-referred to rocket scientists. The next 10 years found me working in ocean-resource related programs. After that, I struck out on my own, moving from aerospace into high-tech public relations. Shortly after rising to the presidency of a national Public Relations (PR) agency, I created my own high-tech PR/Advertising firm. I stayed with that until retiring in 2005.
A year before being diagnosed with cancer, divorce became a part of my life. I mention this because about six months before being diagnosed, I met a wonderful woman whom I hoped would one day become my wife. When the cancer struck, I offered her an easy out of our relationship. She declined and said I would have a better chance of beating the cancer bug if she was at my side. So, after an extended courtship, we married.
My recovery from the first bout with cancer proceeded well. A couple of months after radiation and the loss of 60 pounds, I was back playing golf, working for my clients and enjoying life. Swallowing became increasingly difficult over the years because of the scar tissue caused by the radiation. Then, in 2010, I underwent heart-bypass surgery. Recovery was fast and life returned to a semblance of normalcy. Once again, my wife was the strength I needed to pull through. Then, in September, 2012, another tumor appeared, this time on my right gum. A stage 4 prognosis meant that major surgery was essential. To eliminate the affected area, Stanford surgeons removed a large portion of my lower jaw, part of my tongue and a section of my soft pallet.
Since then, I have been unable to speak clearly or swallow anything except a sip of water. My days of being the MC at golf tournaments, banquets and social functions were over. Every barium swallow test has shown sure evidence that aspiration (material entering the trachea and lungs) meant that even trying to swallow anything involved some serious risk. As of this writing, I have survived nearly three years by feeding myself through a stomach tube, six cans of Jevity each day.
Now, what does all of this have to do with Dr. Whynot? Early in 2015, I was hospitalized with a suspected stomach ulcer. Once that problem was resolved, it was discharge time. Enter Dr. Whynot. Having met once before, she asked what was new in our lives, how we were doing and what we were planning for the new year. I replied that, although we used to enjoy traveling, we didn’t do that much, any more. “Why not,” she asked. “Well, I don’t feel comfortable speaking with a decided speech impairment, and feeding myself through a tube might make others in a restaurant uncomfortable. In fact, we used to love to visit many of the great restaurants in San Francisco, but not any more.” Once again, “Why not” was the response.
Dr. Whynot explained that her grandfather had lived a full life with a feeding tube for 20 years. In fact, every year he traveled to his native Iran. He didn’t let other people take away what he loved most. His attitude, and now Dr. Whynot’s was, “If they don’t like it, that’s their problem, not mine.”
My most recent career move has been to contribute a feature column to our local newspaper. I gave that up after the second bout with cancer. I’m not sure why. When I mentioned to Dr. Whynot that I wasn’t writing any more, well, by now I’m sure you can figure out what she said. Even though Dr. Whynot was as busy as ER admitting and discharge doctors always are, this discussion went on for over 30 minutes!
The day after my wife and I returned home from the hospital, we booked a river cruise on the Danube River for later this year, sailing from Vienna to Prague. I contacted the editor of the local paper and asked him if he would consider my contributing again. I hope to start in a few weeks. You might ask, “Why.” My response, of course, will be, “Why not.” (If you would like to read some of my past columns, just click here or Google “hankthescribe” and select the first listing, “much ado about nothing.” And if you wonder why you should spend your time doing that, I say, “Why not!”)
Thanks to her kindness, incredible attitude and sincere interest in my life, ours has taken a drastic change, once again. This time, for the better thanks to this wonderful, caring person, Dr. Mahsa Esfahani, AKA Dr. Whynot, at Good Samaritan Hospital in San Jose, California.