My Knight Cancer Story - Head and Neck Cancer
Ending on a High Note
When Lorraine Barr noticed a small lump on the side of her neck in 2005, she went to her doctor. A test for lymphoma came back negative, and she was told it was probably stress-related.
Several weeks later the lump was still there, and people were noticing. “I had a singing competition in May,” says Lorraine, “so I made my doctor’s appointment for the day after. I didn’t want anything to get in the way of that competition.”
Two days after a needle biopsy, Lorraine’s doctor called her at work with the news: it was cancer.
Lorraine’s daughter started doing internet research to find her mother the best doctor. They chose Peter Andersen, M.D., F.A.C.S, head and neck cancer surgeon at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute, who worked with Arthur Hung, M.D., radiation oncologist.
“We will help you through this,” the nurse told Lorraine over the phone. Scared and full of questions, Lorraine began to relax into the comfort of knowing she was in good hands. “Everyone worked together. I didn’t have to repeat myself. Dr. Andersen prepared me and my family for what we had to do. I never felt hurried through my appointments, and my family was a part of the process. He and Dr. Hung were exceptional at helping me work out a plan for my treatment.”
Lorraine had a tumor at the base of her tongue. Special consideration needed to be taken to preserve Lorraine’s vocal cords and saliva production so she could sing again. During
surgery to remove Lorraine’s cancerous lymph nodes, Dr. Andersen worked closely with the anesthesiologist to make sure intubation was gentle on Lorraine’s vocal cords. “It made the
procedure more difficult for him,” recalls Lorraine. “He took special care of me, knowing how
important the outcome would be on my life.”
Thirty-five radiation treatments lay ahead for Lorraine. The risk of severe damage to her saliva glands was high, and the end of her singing was a distinct possibility. Because of this, Dr. Hung decided to treat Lorraine with Amifostine, a drug designed to protect the salivary glands during radiation. But timing would be everything. “It meant special coordination between oncology and radiation medicine,” explains Lorraine. “But everyone was behind me.” Dr. Hung used intensity modulated radiation therapy, or IMRT, to treat Lorraine. IMRT conforms to the tumor shape but also allows the strength of the beams to be changed in some areas to lessen damage to normal body tissues. This provides even more control in reducing the radiation reaching normal tissue while getting a higher dose to the tumor. It may result in even fewer side effects.
Fast forward to Valentine’s Day, 2006. Dr. Andersen is with a patient, and is repeatedly paged to the clinic nurse’s station. He finishes with the patient and rushes to the desk, wondering what could be so important. Lorraine and the ladies of her singing quartet are there. With broad smiles they serenade him with “Our Best to You.” “Here’s one of my success stories,” Dr. Andersen told the clinic. It’s a chorus Lorraine Barr will never tire of hearing. “I had one opportunity to get a second chance; I went with the best.”