Ernesto Shares His Story About Squamous Cell Cancer of The Throat

It was rough from the beginning...just getting the initial diagnosis and trying to digest its significance was daunting to say the least. The young ENT surgeon who saw me initially was tentative in telling me the bad news. I know as a physician, it's never easy to tell someone he or she has CANCER. She said, "I am sorry but you have cancer, Squamous Cell Cancer of The Throat, to be exact". My ears were burning as I listened quietly. And she continued, "There are two types...1) HPV Positive associated with STD (sexually transmitted disease) and 2) HPV Negative.

Painting by Ernesto Amaranto
Painting by Ernesto Amaranto – “11th Street St. & 5th Ave, NYC", completed on 12/7/13.

The first one has a better prognosis than the second one. Am sorry to say you have the second type, HPV Negative. My mind was wandering now....just my luck, not only do I get this nasty condition and the worse kind yet and for crying out loud without the pleasure of getting it. Later on Dan would tell his mother, "I never thought I'd ever wish one of my parents would have an STD!"

Surrounded by my family and going back to the city that I love, things settled down fast. The boys along with my wife Marian's unfailing dedication to detail closed in and made sure everything related to my treatment went on smoothly. In the meanwhile calls, texts, e-mails, and get well cards kept coming. And of course the care packages and jokes! Surrounded by all this love and concern I felt ready to face this very serious challenge to my well being. The final thing I did to get ready was to shave my head. Now I' m ready.

My oncologist, Dr. Marshall Posner, was not kidding in our first meeting when he warned me to be prepared for very serious side effects. He also stated in a very reassuring way that I would get the best treatment there was. The chemo & radiation was really a rough assault to the body but was necessary to combat the aggressive cancer cells. Dr. Posner is one of the leaders in the treatment of this type of cancer. His treatment plan was to give me the strongest possible dose of both the chemo and radiation that I could sustain without incurring serious medical consequences. The treatment schedule included: 9 weeks of chemo and 7 weeks of combined chemo; (1x per wk) and radiation (5x per wk).

He did not veer very much from his treatment plan until my platelet count went so dangerously low that the threat of bleeding was imminent. The chemo was suspended for 2 weeks while I got blood transfusion. He assured me that this minor change did not alter the designed course of treatment. The side effects were brutal, the pain at times was unbearable. There were times when I was just out of it and I had no memory of the episode except for what Marian told me later. The dryness of the mouth and the lack of taste bothers me even now. I love to eat you see! The worse period was 1-2 weeks after completing the treatment cycle. 

Then came the recovery period...back to Colorado for recuperation. Very slowly I started the road to recovery. Within 3 months the pain gradually subsided, the dryness of the mouth and poor appetite started to improve, the weakness along with malaise is less and my general well being has been improving. A scheduled visit to the original ENT surgeon who made the original diagnosis declared from her exam that I was "clean" but a PET SCAN was necessary for a final evaluation of the treatment. So back to Mt. Sinai in New York for the 3 month follow-up medical evaluation with Dr. Posner. After all the lab work was completed including the PET SCAN we saw him and got the good news... NO evidence of CANCER! 

Score: Round One--Home Team -1, Big C- 0

“This painting is a street scene of the last apartment we had in Manhattan, on 11th St. between 5th Ave. & University Place. I loved that neighborhood. While in NYC for the treatment, we had the chance to visit the area and shortly thereafter, I had the urge to finish this painting I started and set aside many years ago. For some reason my current situation and the visit to my favorite neighborhood in NYC rekindled my interest in painting.” – Ernesto Amaranto