My Knight Cancer Story - Richard Brack

Brack - OHSU Head and Neck CancerWhen I retired in early 2013, I looked forward to moving with my wife into a house on the Oregon Coast, which was under construction at the time. While I struggled with sinus issues at the time, I never imagined I would be diagnosed with cancer, or that I would face three surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation in the coming year.

I’d been hesitant to visit a doctor about the sinus problems and figured they were related to similar issues that led to three surgeries I’d had a decade ago. But when the problems persisted after a few weeks, I finally met with a physician’s assistant, Lindsay Wyant, M.S., who noticed some swelling on my neck and referred me to Neil Gross, M.D., a head and neck cancer specialist with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. At the same time, Wyant suggested I take part in Knight Cancer’s free head and neck cancer screening.

Before I saw Dr. Gross, I took part in the screening. There, a physician examined me, confirmed the abnormal swelling, and asked about my stiff neck. I hadn’t connected the stiffness to my sinus issues. I assumed it was the result of sleeping in a bad position. That physician also suggested I see Dr. Gross, signaling that I might have something serious.  Dr. Gross subsequently discovered that I had Stage IV cancer infecting my lymph nodes. My outlook early on was very gloomy, but I knew I was in good hands with Dr. Gross and the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute.

The spring after I was diagnosed, I had three surgeries that led to the removal of 21 infected lymph nodes, the cancer at the base of my tongue and a benign mass on the back of my esophagus. To remove the cancer at the base of my tongue, Dr. Gross suggested trans-oral robotic surgery.  Dr. Gross is one of the first physicians on the West Coast to perform this type of procedure. I decided to pursue it because it meant my tumor could be removed through my mouth and I wouldn’t need surgery that would split my jawbone to access the cancer.

Following the surgeries, while still under the care of Dr. Gross, I was enrolled in a clinical trial for a drug designed to reduce pain and improve swallowing after surgery. Soon thereafter, I received a six-week series of chemotherapy from Kathleen Kemmer, M.D., and radiation from John Holland, M.D.  Concurrently, Joshua Schindler, M.D., aided in my post-operation recovery by referring me to Rachel King, M.S., CCC-SLP, a coach who helped me speak and swallow properly again. The last of my treatments ended in October, and I received word in February — nearly a year after diagnosis — that my cancer had been eradicated.

My wife and I moved into our new house in December and are enjoying life at the Oregon Coast. I owe it all to and am extremely grateful for the team of doctors, caregivers and staff members who made it possible. Because of the tremendous team effort, cutting-edge surgical procedure and the potentially life-saving cancer screening, I am a cancer survivor today.

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503 494-5355

Free Screening Event

Get a free head and neck cancer screening from an OHSU Knight Cancer Institute doctor on April 25.

Event details

we see patients at

Physicians Pavilion
3147 S.W. Sam Jackson Park Rd.
2nd Floor
Portland, Oregon 97239

Center for Health & Healing
3303 S.W. Bond Ave.,
7th Floor Portland , OR

Kohler Pavilion
808 S.W. Campus Drive
4th Floor
Portland, OR 97239

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