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Steve begins his road to recovery from head and neck cancer

Steve begins his road to recovery from head and neck cancer

Photo: Steve, patient of Niels C. Kokot, MD, pictured with his wife and two dogs

Steve, a wine and spirits division manager in the San Gabriel Valley, first noticed a lump on his neck about the size of a pea in May of 2010.

An emergency tonsillectomy and biopsy revealed stage 4 squamous cell cancer. Stunned and unsure what to do, Steve followed the recommendation of his doctor to see Niels Kokot, MD. Rattled by the diagnosis, Steve was put at ease by Kokot’s caring approach: “Dr. Kokot was so easy to talk to and make it very understandable to me.” Together, they elected to proceed with surgery and radiation treatment.

Beginning in July 2010, Kokot performed a series of robotic surgeries using the daVinci® robot to remove Steve’s tonsil, the affected area around it and the lymph nodes in his throat. Thankfully, only one other lymph node had been infected and the cancer hadn’t spread further. With the help of Kokot and his staff, Steve began to recover.

“I had a great experience at the hospital. The staff made me very comfortable and pain management was great.” Radiation treatment caused Steve to temporarily lose his sense of taste. He also had difficulty opening his mouth and swallowing. He worked with a speech therapist and a rehabilitation specialist to improve his muscle strength and began swallowing very soon.

Faced with a long recovery, Steve was grateful for the unwavering support of his wife, but became withdrawn. Kokot and his wife suggested he attend the Head and Neck Surgery Support Group. Though not typically something he would try, Steve gave the group a shot.

“It was a very positive experience; everyone was very open.”

With past and present patients and their families in attendance, as well as Kokot and Uttam Sinha, of Keck Medicine of USC, Steve found himself among a community of peers who opened his eyes. “It was good to hear from people who had gone through the same thing

[as me]. Some had been coming to the support group for eight years and are now living full and complete lives. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.” Steve began attending the support group on a regular basis and continued speech and swallowing therapy. His taste returned about eight months later — “well enough to know what a good wine tastes like,” he jokes. And now, he’s working with Dr. Kokot to help others facing head and neck cancer on an individual basis.

Steve says the experience has changed his life. “Every day is a good day. I couldn’t have asked for a more caring and thoughtful staff, and I can always talk to Dr. Kokot. I’m so lucky to end up where I am.”

Visit the Head and Neck Cancer program at the Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery for more information.

Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-owned academic medical centers in the Los Angeles area.