There’s news that Hollywood star Michael Douglas, 65, is undergoing treatment for throat cancer. Reporters said his doctors said he is expected to make a full recovery. But, believe me, when someone is diagnosed with any kind of head and neck cancer, as this is, it is not an easy go.
My first encounter with it was with my friend Bob Moore, a former sales representative for a major pharmaceutical company. He was a positive, yet realistic guy. The disease and the toxic treatment a few years ago eventually took its toll and he passed on.
My dear friend Mike Piller, famous as writer and co-executive producer of the Star Trek television series, had a similar diagnosis. He did his research and traveled to the best centers. Surgery and radiation took away part of his jaw and his ability to taste and swallow. Of course his speech was affected. He was a trooper, but he never recovered.
In both cases the doctors did what they could to cut out or zap the cancerous tissue tucked away around a lot of critical structures.
I am happy to tell you there’s an upbeat part of this story now. I heard it told recently by Lydia Miner from Alaska. The lump in her throat turned out to be cancer. Her local doctors told her about the aggressive, disfiguring treatment and, if she was lucky, the long recovery. She did her research, got multiple second opinions and connected with a Seattle surgeon who had just be trained on the new U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved use of a robot to perform head and neck surgery in a much less invasive way. In Miner's case, instead of a 9-12 hour surgery, her robotic surgery took 44 minutes. She has made a full recovery and is back to work with, in her case, no need for chemo or radiation.
It’s hard to know just yet whether Douglas can benefit from the same approach. I certainly hope so. Miner knows how fortunate she is. She knew of people like my friends Moore and Piller too and how just a few months earlier that could have been her.
No one wants a serious diagnosis, but if you receive one here’s hoping it will come at a time when a truly better approach is available. That’s my wish for Douglas.