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.