This Is Why - Britton Henderson

To tell a thing like this is something most of us just aren’t naturally equipped to do. Especially in those earliest days leading up to the diagnosis.  So I kept pretty quiet about it all, perhaps with the exception of my wife, kids and a few essential workmates. I was a stranger to sickness other than a sniffle here and there, and as a recently retired career Coast Guard Officer, there was for my former career an expectation of fitness which I enjoyed maintaining as a lifestyle. So, when I found a swollen lymph node on my neck that wouldn’t go away it would be fair to say that I was not mentally equipped to deal with the not knowing. And let’s be clear, no matter how long it takes, it takes too long to come to a diagnosis.


In the cancer community, I was about as lucky as a person can be. I was diagnosed with Stage II squamous cell carcinoma of the left tonsil, HPV+. If you didn’t know, it’s an emerging epidemic in the United States for men 50-64, a fact which doesn’t diminish the effect of hearing that I had cancer for the first time. It is preventable, so please have a conversation with your children’s doctor about the HPV vaccine. Statistically speaking, this cancer responds very favorably to treatment, which in my case included unilateral radiation to my left tonsil and thankfully NO chemo. I am truly humbled in the presence of those who have it far worse than I and acutely aware of how good I had it, even on my worst days.

This is not just my story though. This is the story of my children, who feared the worst for me as they remembered my step-father dying after a 3 year fight with cancer. This is the story of my wife, who was steadfast when she had every reason not to be. This is the story of my workmates, who told me to not worry…to take care of myself. This was the story of my countless friends, who had to learn far too late of my condition, because I just couldn’t bear to talk about it all the time. And of course, this is part of the story of my team of care providers at MD Anderson.

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Now, nearly two months following treatment, I still have a variety of post-treatment side effects that may prove to take some time to go away, if they ever do. But again, I know fully how fortunate I am, and I am confident in my future.

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I am aware that I am different now. Diminished?  Sometimes it feels that way. I hate that the first time I met my granddaughter I didn’t feel fully present. I hate that food tastes different now. I hate that I can’t grow a beard on half of my face, it’s stupid, but after being required to shave for 31 years, I was having a bit of fun with my new fuzzy face, and my family liked it too! I hate that I’ll likely never stop thinking about cancer. I hate that my disease has impacted my family and friends most of all…

But, I LOVE my life and all the potential that it holds for me!

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Michael Walsh