Oral Cancer Survivor
- Diagnosed with oral cancer at age 53
- Received life-saving robotic surgery and radiation therapy
- “With a great team, you know you’re in great hands.”
If it weren’t for his wife, Scott Morris says he might not be here to talk about his experience with oral cancer.
Healthy and thriving at 53, Scott knew the importance of eating right, exercising, and not smoking. But after three weeks of being tired and having a burning sore throat, Scott’s wife, Liz, told him to go see his doctor.
“I just didn’t think it was anything,” Scott says. His doctor prescribed a 10-day supply of antibiotics. But, when his sore throat was still there after the treatment, Scott went back to the doctor, who then referred him to an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist.
“The ENT looked in my throat twice and told me I had cancer,” Scott says. The cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma, was located on Scott’s left tonsil.
Scott had surgery in his hometown, where they said he could watch it and wait and see what happened after that. “But my ear, nose, and throat doctor told me I should go see Dr. Neal Futran at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance,” Scott says. “Dr. Futran is world-renown – it’s where he told me I had to go.”
Dr. Futran talked to Scott over the phone initially one evening, which impressed Scott a great deal. “It was 7 O’clock at night and the head guy is on the phone with me!” They talked for a long time, and Dr. Futran explained everything about Scott’s cancer and told him that he thought Scott would need another surgery to check his lymph nodes.
Scott went to University of Washington Medical Center and met with Dr. Méndez who would use a daVinci robot to perform a larger tonsillectomy and remove 20 lymph nodes from Scott’s neck area, where only microscopic cancer cells were found.
Scott’s cancer was staged at IVB, which means it had spread to distant sites. “I thought it was a death sentence,” Scott says. “But Dr. Méndez said, ‘We got this.’” And Scott trusted Dr. Méndez and his confidence. “This second surgery may have saved my life or made it easier to treat,” Scott says.
In addition to Drs. Futran and Méndez, Scott’s team included Upendra Parvathaneni, MD, radiation oncologist; all met with Scott to talk about his treatment course after his surgery.
Looking at the options for treatment, Scott could have had chemotherapy, with or without radiation therapy. But together they decided that chemotherapy wasn’t necessary in his case, but radiation would be beneficial.
“One of the things I did on purpose was stay off of the internet,” Scott says. The one time he did, it really worried him. “I was able to call Dr. Méndez at the time and he walked me through it again, but he teased me about getting on the internet, too.”
During his radiation therapy, Scott envisioned himself healthy. He ate so he would avoid getting a feeding tube, and so he wouldn’t lose weight. He also saw an SCCA nutritionist who helped.
“I put on a brave face for my family,” says Scott, who decided to bring a family friend and counselor to meet with him and his family. “My kids wanted me to talk openly about what I really felt.”
His radiation treatment was administered daily. “The technologists were fun and tried to have fun and be as caring as they could be,” Scott says. “I felt supported by the caring, communicative staff.”
The first two weeks of treatment, Scott felt good. He worked out and tried to act as normal as he could. But weeks three and four got harder. He got mouth sores and could not swallow. He felt very tired.
“Your saliva gets thick and you’re in an uncomfortable mask during treatment for about 20 minutes,” Scott says. Mentally, he would go to a happy spot, but it could also feel claustrophobic for him, which was difficult.
As the CEO of a large company, Scott kept his disease quiet at work for a while, but stayed engaged in the business and arranged his treatment times accordingly. He eventually told his staff his story, and was surprised by the stories he received in return from people who were grateful for what he’d told them, for the impact it had on their own life choices.
“Since I’ve been diagnosed, five friends have been diagnosed with cancer. I’ve recommended them all to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I can’t imagine a better place to come for the expertise and level of caring. I’ve never experienced it elsewhere.”
On his second to last day of treatment, feeling like a “seasoned veteran,” Scott saw a woman who was about to go through her first radiation treatment. “I knew what she was going through,” he says. He could empathize on a whole new level.
Life after treatment
“At SCCA, I had the best of the best,” Scott says. “The oncology nursing staff is invaluable.” Cancer treatment can be hard on spouses as well, and Scott says that his nurse Julie was wonderful and spent a lot of time with his wife when she was full of fear and doubt. “With a great team, you know you’re in great hands,” he says.
Scott returns to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance every three months for a check up. “We celebrate every time we hear I am cancer free,” Scott says. “It’s a great thing to do for my family.”
Today, he feels great. Aside from having a dry mouth, which makes it difficult for him to swallow at times, Scott is back to his pre-cancer, active lifestyle of boating, golfing, skiing… His newest favorite past time is hanging out with his grandson.
“Men tend to poo-poo illness,” Scott says. “I still think I’m young – 25, not 54. My advice is to listen to your body. Now, if I feel something odd, I have no trouble asking a doctor about it."