I am living proof that cancer is not a death sentence.
I survived three bouts with cancer: a diagnosis and recurrence
of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and a diagnosis of stage IV HPV–
related head and neck cancer. I believe I survived for a reason,
and I am committed to educating others about the increasing
number of head and neck cancer cases in the United States, an
unfortunate circumstance in that this type of cancer can o;en
be caused by infection with a sexually transmitted virus, the
humanpapilloma virus (HPV). Fortunately, HPV infection
can now be prevented by vaccination with either Gardasil or
As a sports writer covering NASCAR, I was always tired
toward the end of the season a;er being on the road for 30-
plus weekends. But in the fall of 2006, the tiredness was much
worse than normal. ;en, during one race weekend, I noticed
a lump in my groin about the size of a golf ball. I was scared.
I saw my family doctor when I got home, and he took one
look at the lump, which was now the size of a baseball, and
told me to go to the hospital. ;ere, a;er a CT scan of my
entire body, the ER [emergency room] doctor came in and
said, “It seems you may have something going on and it is
;e next day I saw an oncologist, and he told me that he
believed I had di;use large B cell lymphoma, a common type
of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but that surgery and a proper
biopsy would con;rm his diagnosis. ;is would have to
wait, as I had plans to get married. So, on December 22, I got
married in the Little White Chapel on the Strip in Las Vegas;
the day a;er Christmas, I had surgery to remove the enlarged
lymph node in my groin.
Next up were six rounds of chemotherapy. It was tough, but
I went about my business covering NASCAR. I would have
chemo on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, and then ;y to a race
on ;ursday. ;is schedule worked well until the fourth
round of chemo. By then, I felt as though I were walking
around in a lead suit at the race track. I was on pain meds, and
my oncologist prescribed a drug called Marinol, which is a
synthetic marijuana. But it didn’t work, so I turned to medical
marijuana, as it was the only thing that made my nausea and
feeling of malaise any better.
During my chemo treatments, I had a lump on my neck
that would shrink and come back again a;er each round.
PET [positron emission tomography] scans following my
;nal round of chemo still showed hot spots in my neck.
My local oncologist assured me the lump would eventually
go away with more chemo, but I wanted a second opinion.
I went to see an oncologist at the Hospital of the University
of Pennsylvania, who said, “You don’t have non-Hodgkin
lymphoma anymore; you have something else and you need
to see Dr. Greg Weinstein at the Hospital of the University of
I saw Dr. Weinstein, an otorhinolaryngologist [ear, nose, and
throat (ENT) specialist] the very next day. A;er two needle
biopsies, he told me I had stage IV head and neck cancer
caused by HPV. It was overwhelming. How could I still have
cancer? I started crying, and as I got up to get a box of tissues,
Dr. Weinstein stood up and hugged me. As he did, he said,
“Don’t worry, I’ll make you better.”
He was true to his word, but the treatment was tough. It
consisted of a number of surgeries, including one that was
done by the Da Vinci device, which is a robot, and very cool.
I learned that my transoral robotic surgery (TORS) for oral
cancer was part of a new procedure being pioneered by Dr.
A;er all my surgeries came more chemotherapy. ;en came
the radiation, and it was brutal. Monday through Friday,
for six weeks, I was strapped to a table for 20 minutes of
focused radiotherapy. ;e only thing that got me through
my treatments was listening to one of my favorite Pink Floyd
albums, “;e Division Bell.”
In March 2008, Dr. Weinstein declared me free of head and
neck cancer, but it was about a year a;er that before I really
Having two cancers in one year was very di;cult, and I would
not have been successful in my battle without my wife and
three daughters, who tirelessly helped me through the whole
experience. ;ey and others like them are the unsung heroes.
Unfortunately, in 2013, I had a recurrence of my non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Treatment of a relapsed disease was
extremely di;erent. It was far more di;cult. Following four
rounds of in-hospital chemo, I was admitted to the stem
cell transplant program at the Hospital of the University of
Pennsylvania, where I was treated by Dr. Jakob Svoboda. I was
discharged from the active portion of the program in January
2014, although my scans and blood are still being monitored.
HPV-caused head and neck cancer is incredibly common,
and the need to increase awareness about this is critical,
especially among men ages 40–65. It can be di;cult to
discuss getting a sexually transmitted cancer, but it is time
to talk about it. I have started a nonpro;t organization called
“High Performance Voices” to educate Americans about the
pandemic of head and neck cancers and about how to talk
to their doctor when they have that persistent sore throat
or blister in their mouth. My nonpro;t is also dedicated to
educating young adults and parents about the HPV vaccines.
We can prevent a generation of young Americans from
having to go through the same experience I did.
THREE-TIME CANCER SURVIVOR AND ADVOCATE FOR
HPV AWARENESS AND VACCINATION
American Association for Cancer Research 51