A Head & Neck Cancer Survivor’s Message For Others

Everyone’s experience with cancer is unique. The diagnosis, treatment, a patient’s perspective all contribute to a personal story. These factors also play a role in the life a cancer patient lives once they make the transition to “survivor”.

Here is a stage 4 head and neck cancer survivor’s story and the message he has for others diagnosed.

Take Control, Or Be Controlled

Source: headandneck.org

“Hank” Deneski, an 11-year survivor of stage IV inoperable squamous cell carcinoma on the base of his tongue, has an urgent message for others diagnosed with an oral, head and/or neck cancer, “Take control or be controlled.”

Hank, now a motivational speaker and trainer, is Founder of WesternOhio Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Support, and dedicates his time to coordinating five annual FREE HNCA Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness® screenings for uninsured/disadvantaged in Western Ohio. He also directs an extensive awareness and educational program and tirelessly focuses his energies on not only raising needed funds, but works to save lives through promoting early detection and treatment.

Oral, head & neck cancers are often debilitating, and Hank refers to them as an “orphan” cancer because it is not as well publicized like other cancers. Treatment, as he well knows, may result in disfiguring surgery, loss of the ability to eat or speak, and with multiple treatments resulting in difficult, long lasting side effects that may result in a “new normal” in living.

Diagnosed in 2005, Hank’s ENT advised surgery would be debilitating – removal of his tongue, esophagus, and voice box — creating a nearly impossible recuperation. As a result, both chemotherapy and radiation were prescribed. During all of it, Hank never asked “why me?” but with herculean determination proceeded with “what’s next Doc?” Forty-eight hours of cisplatin-chemo infusions, 77 radiation treatments, 15 months with a feeding tube, ongoing xerostomia, chemo brain, and neuropathy, other side effects, many which continue to this day, Hank emerged fighting for others as well as himself.

Hank transitioned from a career as sales manager and trainer, utilizing all of his life skills, to his new Mission in Life to educate others, including dental and medical professionals, to provide so many with the opportunity to be screened as well as to support patients, survivors and their caregivers through the treatment process and beyond.

About a year following his own cancer treatments, Hank attended the Support for People with Oral, Head and Neck Cancer (SPOHNC) Conference in New York where he learned about the lack of support from insurance (dental vs medical) and gained information about support, alternative effective treatments for side effects, and other subjects. This affected him deeply and motivated him to persevere.

Invited to the inaugural LIVESTRONG Summit in Austin, Texas in October 2006, Hank and other delegates brainstormed what survivors need/want to know when diagnosed and throughout treatment. The delegates were challenged to write mission statements they would take home to incorporate into their communities. Hank fulfilled his mission early on by creating an oral, head and neck cancer support program for survivors and caregivers in Western Ohio and instituting free annual screenings to the underserved in Dayton & Montgomery County, Ohio.

Seeing the need for accurate information, regular screenings and healthcare supports, Hank took it upon himself to ensure that people in Ohio’s Montgomery County were afforded these opportunities, as no organizations appeared willing to help.

Survivors in Dayton, Ohio also needed a support system, and Hank then went about establishing the WesternOhio Oral Head and Neck Cancer Support in August 2007. The now 9-year-old group, has approximately 100 members and meets the second Monday of every month. This self-driven group assists and supports each other, hears speakers regarding nutrition, treatment options, caregiving, and other topics.

In 2009, Hank faced another very tough road with emergency surgery for Ludwig’s Angina, resulting in overnight hospital stays, total extraction of all teeth, removal of part of his jawbone, implants, oral prostheses, and 50 hyperbaric dives.

Finding his strength by helping others, Hank continued in his mission to serve and educate the disadvantaged. In April 2011, numerous Ohio oral, head and neck cancer screenings were established with Elizabeth Place’s, The Levin Family Foundation’s Celebrate Life and Health at Sinclair College, and, Dayton Veterans Administration Medical Center.

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Head and Neck Cancer Resources

SURVIVEiT aims to empower you to define your journey and face cancer on your own terms. After receiving a head and neck cancer diagnosis, the most important, urgent question to ask is “what’s next?”.

Our Head and Neck Cancer Resource Library contains resources that have been reviewed and approved by medical and survivor advisory boards. Visit our resource library to find helpful information regarding:

  • Actionable steps you can take now
  • 21 Questions to ask your oncologist
  • Medical resources
  • Financial resources
  • Support resources
  • And more information for cancer patients and caregivers