Head and Neck
Oral Cancer Survivor: ‘I Caused My Cancer’
SCI Hosts Free Cancer Screenings
March 26, 2015 – John Pearson speaks through an electrolarynx with an oral adapter. His distinct voice,
generated through a handheld device, is a constant reminder of the throat cancer he was diagnosed with in
2009 after smoking cigarettes for 25 years.
Head and neck cancers, similar to Pearson’s, account for approximately four percent of all cancers in the
United States. They are more common in men and in people over age 50. As part of National Oral Head and
Neck Cancer Awareness Week, Simmons Cancer Institute at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine will
again offer free head and neck cancer screenings in April.
The screenings will take place from 4 – 7 p.m., Monday, April 6 and 4 – 7 p.m., Monday, April 13 at Simmons
Cancer Institute, 315 W. Carpenter Street, Springfield. Individuals are asked to register in advance by calling
Annette in SIU’s Department of Surgery 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. weekdays at 217-545-7133. Parking is available in
the parking lot adjacent to SCI.
Pearson, a husband and father of three, urges others not to wait to get screened. “I was diagnosed in 2009.
Earlier that year, I had a sore throat and ignored it. It got the point where I couldn’t swallow,” he said.
After being diagnosed with throat cancer, Pearson underwent a total laryngectomy and has a stoma/tracheotomy. Five years, 200 hours of surgery, 59 days in the hospital, 35 days of radiation and eight weeks of chemotherapy later, Pearson is cancer-free and determined to make a difference.
“If we can get people to stop buying and smoking cigarettes, that will be a gift to me. I caused my cancer. This
is a way to make it right” Pearson said.
Making it “right” for Pearson is volunteering to speak to health classes in Springfield schools about the dangers of smoking. “Once people see me, they will know,” Pearson said, wiping tears from his face. “I pick my daughter up from school, and I see kids smoking. I don’t want them to go through what I went through, what I put my family through.”
Pearson will always speak through the electrolarnyx and carry the scars of the Stage 4 cancer that nearly cost
him his life. “My family’s life is forever changed,” the Mattoon native said. “I live every day like it’s my last.”
People who smoke or chew tobacco, consume alcohol regularly or have a family history of head and neck
cancer are at higher risk and should be tested. Regular check-ups can detect the early stages of head and neck
cancer or conditions that may lead to it.
Physicians at SCI also encourage individuals with these warning signs to get screened:
- Persistent earache or sore throat
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
- Hoarseness that lasts more than two weeks
- An ulcer in the mouth or throat that does not heal
- A lump in the neck or thyroid gland
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV) positive
SIU head and neck surgeons will perform the screenings. They will take a brief patient history, ask about potential risk factors and look for cancer that affects the ears, nose, mouth, throat, voice box, neck and thyroid gland.
The mission of Simmons Cancer Institute at SIU is to serve the people of central and southern Illinois by addressing their present and future cancer needs through education, research, patient care and community
This part of the body includes the important nerves that control sight, smell, hearing and the face. In the head and neck area, otolaryngologists are trained to treat infectious diseases, both benign and malignant tumors, facial trauma and congenital deformities of the face. They also diagnose and treat conditions of the thyroid and salivary glands and perform cosmetic and reconstructive surgery.
Issues involving the head and neck include:
- Endoscopic Skull Based Surgery
- Facial Trauma/Orbital Fractures
- Neck Masses
- Parotid Gland
- Pituitary Tumors
- Reconstructive Surgery
- Thyroid & Parathyroid