A Heart Attack May Have Saved Glenn’s Life
In May of 2011, Glenn Moberg had a heart attack. At the time, he was a little overweight, so his wife urged him to change his diet and get in better shape. As he started losing weight, he noticed a small lump on his neck – about the side of a pea – and decided to go to the doctor. By August of that same year, a biopsy revealed that Glenn had squamous cells in his lymph nodes, and he was diagnosed with Stage 4 neck cancer of unknown origin.
At first, his doctor at the VA hospital wanted to surgically remove the lump. But because Glenn's heart attack had occurred so recently, his doctor felt it was best to take another course of action. After considering his medical history and the stage of the disease, Glenn's doctor recommended 35 radiation treatments and 8 chemotherapy sessions to eradicate the cancer.
Glenn then met with his radiation oncologist, who agreed with the VA doctor's recommendation for treatment. Glenn's radiation oncologist explained the whole process to Glenn and his wife very frankly. Glenn recalls, "He said 'It's going to be tough. We're going to beat you up. But we're going to beat it.'"
Glenn came in for radiation treatments 5 days a week for 7 weeks, and had chemotherapy treatment once a week for 8 weeks. For each radiation therapy treatment, Glenn was in and out of the treatment room pretty quickly — usually within 20 minutes or less.
Before treatment began, Glenn's radiation oncologist gave him detailed information about possible side effects. The first week of treatment, Glenn felt pretty normal. While in treatment, he received all his food and medicine in liquid form, since many patients begin to have trouble swallowing within the first couple weeks. As treatment progressed, Glenn's throat did become very sensitive. He was urged to swallow a little bit every day, so that he wouldn't have to retrain his throat muscles to swallow post-treatment. So even when he got his food through a feeding tube, he took smalls sips of water whenever he could. He lost some of the hair in his full beard. And gradually, his salivary glands and taste buds lost most of their function. His doctor let him know that this may or may not get better after treatment ended.
After he finished treatment, most of the side effects Glenn experienced eventually subsided. He can swallow, and doesn't need water with him at all times to make up for his salivary glands. He has also regained his sense of taste. His voice is still a little quieter and raspier than it was before treatment, but he can talk normally. Glenn's wife will laugh and tell you, "I've always been the one with a big mouth anyway, so things are not that different!"
Seven months after his diagnosis in March 2012, Glenn came in to the VA hospital for a PET scan. The scan showed no sign visible signs of the cancer. He, his wife, and treatment team celebrated.
During the first year of his recovery, Glenn came in for scans every three months. Now, he follows up with his team every six months, and eventually he'll check in once a year for monitoring. "They'll keep a good eye on me so that if anything pops up we'll know sooner than the last time."
Despite the side effects Glenn experienced during treatment, he looks back with positivity and strength. He's grateful, even for the heart attack. Both he and his wife feel like the heart attack was a blessing, since it inspired him to lose weight. If he hadn't, he might not have noticed the lump.
And, he's grateful for the great care he received and the techniques used to treat him. He says, "The technology is getting better. And I swear by it now. While I wouldn't look forward to going through it again, it wouldn't scare me to go through it again."