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UnityPoint Health - John Stoddard Cancer Center

Douglass Marberry

The cancer journey is never an easy path and it is different for everyone. At John Stoddard Cancer Center we have many patients with amazing stories of courage, faith and determination. The following is one of those stories. When we asked Douglass Marberry to provide us with some thoughts in regards to his cancer journey and he had the following to share with us. This is the cancer journey of Douglass Marberry written in his own words. Thank you Doug for your willingness to share and to educate our community about oral, head and neck cancers. 

Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Survivor

I feel it is relevant to begin by providing some factual background prior to my diagnosis that may allow readers to have a greater appreciation for my perspective and feelings.  My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2008. I attended all of her  meetings with the oncologist, general surgeon and plastic surgeon in order to better enable me to attempt to support her and try and understand what she was going through. In short, I was on an emotional roller-coaster, dealing with a disease that you couldn't see or touch; a disease that was taking an enormous toll upon my wife. On December 26 of 2008, my wife underwent a double mastectomy. I shall never forget the courage and faith she displayed for her family as she was wheeled to the operating room, knowing that her body would never be the same. She was and to this day remains my hero.

When I was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2009, the emotional roller-coaster began again. Originally, my otolaryngologist was of the opinion that I had a brachial cleft cyst that was nothing to be overly concerned about. It was only after a fine needle aspiration did not go according to plan that I began to fear that something was terribly amiss. The afternoon after that procedure, my ENT physician called and informed me that the small growth in my neck was cancerous. I was speechless. Time slowed and everything appeared to happen in slow motion. Thereafter, he informed me that this was not the worst of the news. Not being able to possibly conceive of what could possibly be worse that having a diagnosis of cancer, I barely heard him state that the lump was not the primary source of cancer in my body. At that point in time, I was no longer able to comprehend or entertain any more information so I handed the phone to my wife so that she could obtain the news first hand.

My Dream Team

Over the course of the next few weeks, my role changed from that of being a cancer caregiver and supporter to that of being a cancer patient. I underwent numerous tests and procedures to determine the primary site of the cancer which ended up being my left tonsil. Leave it to me to 'pick' a rare and relatively unheard of type of cancer. In the very compressed amount of time I was given between diagnosis and surgery, I interviewed physicians to put together the "dream team" I would entrust my future with to battle this disease.  This team consisted of my medical oncologist, Dr. Thomas R. Buroker, my radiation oncologist, Dr. John Triantafyllos (Dr. T) and my ENT surgeon, Dr. Steven R. Herwig, among others.  I underwent a left tonsillectomy and radical neck surgery on August 31, 2009.  It is somewhat ironic that my wife was originally scheduled to have surgery on that same date but I bumped her. Throughout this relatively short period of time my feeling and thoughts ran the gamut from being scared and frightened, debating the pros versus cons as to whether or not to undergo surgery and/or radiation treatment, to that of being frustrated that I was battling a disease I could neither see or grasp and wanting to fight the fight.

My Supporters

The support I had throughout my diagnosis and treatment was amazing and I would unequivocally place my wife at the top of the list. She set the standard for me to try and emulate when she dealt with her cancer in the manner and fashion she did.  Next in line would be my son and very elderly parents. On the heels of my family would be the "family' I inherited at John Stoddard. Without exception, I believe that the physicians, nurses, technicians, receptionists and all others that I came into contact with during my medical care and treatment were very  compassionate, understanding and truly dedicated to helping me fight the battle. I would apologize that I cannot list every single individual as the list is rather extensive; I do not want to slight anyone in this regard.  They all hold a spot near and dear to me in my heart and soul for without all of them, I do not know where I would be today.  I would like to extend a very heartfelt special recognition to my cancer care coordinator, Jennifer Witt, RN, MSN, OCN.  She rolled up her sleeves the first day that I met her and has kept fighting on my behalf and supporting me ever since.  She listened to me when I needed a sounding board on more than one occasion, gave me sound advice, enabled me to make informed decisions based on information she provided and in short, was a god-send! The cancer care coordinators deal with individuals going through a very traumatic time in their lives and it takes a very special individual to perform this role; all of the coordinators I have dealt with are to me, truly unsung heroes.

My Treatment

I went through surgery, underwent seven and one-half weeks of combined chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and underwent lymphedema physical therapy to learn how to deal with the fact that numerous lymph nodes had been removed from my face, throat and neck. In addition, there were numerous lab visits to donate copious amounts of blood to monitor my progress. I have also met with my dentist who has researched the effect of radiation on my jaw and we have developed a plan for attending to my dental hygiene and care. I have also found an acupuncturist to help me deal with pain and swallowing issues. I am still being monitored and tested by my medical oncologist and otolaryngologist. I have attended the Head and Neck support group monthly meetings until starting Chico metrics in an effort to regain my stamina and fitness.  (Both are held on Wednesday nights).  I do miss the camaraderie and enlightenment of the support group meetings.

The Care I Received

In sum, I had the option of going anywhere in the country for my care and I chose John Stoddard Cancer Center. My decision was arrived at shortly after I began my initial interviews of potential care providers, quality of services and support, and the fact finding research I undertook. Cancer is a life threatening and life altering disease. The selection of your health provider is not one to be taken lightly as you are, in essence, placing you life in the hands of others that you barely know. As noted above, all of the attending physicians, nurses, other health care providers and support personnel I have encountered during my battle with cancer were outstanding, first rate - it is hard to find sufficient adjectives to describe the quality of care and service I received at John Stoddard.  I have not regretted my decision and would make the same election had I the opportunity to do things over.