What the heck IS head and neck cancer anyway?

Since we’ve been doing the CRSS Race for Hope, the question, “what exactly is head and cancer cancer?” gets asked a lot.

The abbreviated and somewhat clinical answer is:

  • Cancer that arises in the head or neck region, including the nasal cavity, sinuses, lips, mouth, thyroid glands, salivary glands, throat, or larynx (voice box).
  • The sixth-most-common form of cancer in the world.
  • 50,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States.

A better answer, a more “human” answer may be found in the Roger Ebert portrait done by Esquire Magazine, “Roger Ebert: The Essential Man” (February 2010).  A very small excerpt follows.  Follow the links to the full story, you’ll be better for it.

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It has been nearly four years since Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw and his ability to speak. Now television’s most famous movie critic is rarely seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.

Seven years ago, he recovered quickly from the surgery to cut out his cancerous thyroid and was soon back writing reviews for the Chicago Sun-Times and appearing with Richard Roeper on At the Movies.A year later, in 2003, he returned to work after his salivary glands were partially removed, too, although that and a series of aggressive radiation treatments opened the first cracks in his voice. In 2006, the cancer surfaced yet again, this time in his jaw. A section of his lower jaw was removed; Ebert listened to Leonard Cohen. Two weeks later, he was in his hospital room packing his bags, the doctors and nurses paying one last visit, listening to a few last songs. That’s when his carotid artery, invisibly damaged by the earlier radiation and the most recent jaw surgery, burst. Blood began pouring out of Ebert’s mouth and formed a great pool on the polished floor. The doctors and nurses leapt up to stop the bleeding and barely saved his life. Had he made it out of his hospital room and been on his way home — had his artery waited just a few more songs to burst — Ebert would have bled to death on Lake Shore Drive. Instead, following more surgery to stop a relentless bloodletting, he was left without much of his mandible, his chin hanging loosely like a drawn curtain, and behind his chin there was a hole the size of a plum. He also underwent a tracheostomy, because there was still a risk that he could drown in his own blood. When Ebert woke up and looked in the mirror in his hospital room, he could see through his open mouth and the hole clear to the bandages that had been wrapped around his neck to protect his exposed windpipe and his new breathing tube. He could no longer eat or drink, and he had lost his voice entirely. That was more than three years ago.

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About CRSS Race for Hope

Since 2009, the Capital Region Special Surgery Race for Hope events have raised over $200,000, of which all monies have been dedicated to fundraising, since overhead costs are underwritten by Capital Region Special Surgery. This year's 5K will be held on Saturday, September 30, 2017. The major goal of the Capital Region Special Surgery – Race for Hope Fund, in partnership with the Community Foundation for the Greater Capital Region, is to make grants to not-for-profit organizations/programs serving uninsured and underinsured patients who are experiencing a financial hardship related to a brain, head, or neck cancer diagnosis in the Capital Region (Albany, Columbia, Fulton, Greene, Hamilton, Montgomery, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Warren, Washington counties). Thus far, these proceeds have been allocated to the following local 501c3 organizations: Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region, Inc. C.R. Wood Cancer Center at Glens Falls Hospital, Ellis Hospital Foundation, Inc., Saratoga Hospital—Mollie Wilmot Radiation Oncology Center, and patient services at St. Peter’s Cancer Care Center.
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