NorthShore's head and neck cancer group features a collaborative team of
The team brings together surgical oncology, radiation oncology and medical oncology, backed with essential support from plastic and reconstructive surgery, dental medicine, physical medicine and rehabilitation, psychosocial oncology, nutrition, physical therapy, radiology, pathology and nursing.
Head and neck surgeon Mihir K. Bhayani, MD, joined the team this year following his fellowship training at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
An array of clinical trials ensures that patients have the latest treatment options with the most up-to-date drugs and techniques and NorthShore's special focus on chemoradiation and organ preservation. Multidisciplinary head and neck cancer conferences held every other Thursday bring a broad perspective and multiple areas of expertise to individual cases. The team strives to offer patients the highest chance of cure with the lowest toxicities, including nonsurgical or minimal surgery options whenever possible.
A full range of specialized tertiary care is available, including intraoral endoscopic laser surgery, IMRT and stereotactic radiosurgery. The head and neck group members are active in a variety of national research, education and advocacy initiatives, including contributions to and editorship of the influential UpToDate online textbook.
NorthShore sponsors a head and neck support group, affiliated with SPOHNC (Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer), which meets regularly, provides current information through lectures and offers consistent support for patients and caregivers.
A Team Effort
United States Army Command Sergeant Major David Davis was attending training when a visit to the dentist alerted him to a swollen lymph node on the side of his neck. A series of suspicious, but inconclusive tests led him to the Eisenhower Army Medical Center at Fort Gordon, Georgia, where a thumb-sized tumor at the base of his tongue was ultimately diagnosed as Stage IV oropharyngeal cancer.
Having served multiple combat tours, including stints in Southeast Asia, Iraq and Somalia, the 49-year-old career soldier was in good heath and a self-described tough guy. But hearing the words "you have cancer" initially left him anguished and thinking of his 23-year-old daughter. "When you get the C word, it's devastating. What flashed through my mind was, 'I've deployed five times and been through three wars and I'm going to die of cancer?'" said CSM Davis.
Immediately exploring his best options for treatment, CSM Davis was ready to fight, and luckily found NorthShore oncologist Bruce Brockstein, MD, a nationally recognized expert in head and neck cancers, who is on the frontline of advanced protocols for aggressive cancers like the one CSM Davis had.
Three weeks after diagnosis, CSM Davis began a difficult and intensive course of chemotherapy and radiation based on the specific nature of his cancer, which Dr. Brockstein determined was related to the HPV virus. Undergoing six months of intensive therapy took a toll on CSM Davis who lost 40 pounds and suffered through painful side effects, including a throat so sore it "felt like swallowing shards of glass or hot lava."
Trained never to quit, CSM Davis endured and won the battle.
"He made it through very rough treatment and to date all of his tests are excellent," Dr. Brockstein said. "There
is no sign of recurrence, and he is functioning at an extremely high level both personally and professionally." CSM Davis now serves as the Division CSM, 807th Medical Command headquartered at Fort Douglas, Utah. As the senior enlisted advisor to the commanding general, Davis coordinates command and control initiatives and training for an 11,500 strong medical command.
Both CSM Davis and Dr. Brockstein cited the importance of the team approach to care, with a collaborative group of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, speech and swallowing therapists, nutritionists and other caregivers contributing to a successful recovery.
"I feel great. I'm 99 percent back to where I was before my cancer diagnosis," said CSM Davis. "Dr. Brockstein is tremendous, but it was really a team effort— the same way we operate in the military. You never quit, and you keep working it until you get the results you want."