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Cancer Screening Saves Her Life First, Then Her Husband’s

Cancer Care
Author name: Lee Health


Oral Cancer Patient Story Graphic

Like most happily married couples, George and Dorothy Raes share a variety of interests.

A favorite activity is participating in Southwest Florida’s annual Head and Neck Cancer 5K Run/2-Mile Walk. The Raes (“Rays”) became devoted participants of the event because they’re both survivors of head and neck cancer. First, Dorothy in 2015, then George in 2017.

Thankfully, they share similar experiences about the benefits of head and neck cancer screening that saved their lives. According to the Raes, without their free screenings, they may not be here today to share their story.

“I was sitting in my office one day when a lymph node appeared on the side of my neck,” Dorothy recalled about her diagnosis in 2015. “I went to my primary care doctor, who recommended me for a head and neck cancer screen, which led to a tongue scraping for cancer cells. I had them.”

After Dorothy’s experience with head and neck cancer, which was successfully treated with chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the couple began participating in the annual Head and Neck Cancer 5k Run/2-Mile Walk event. The event raises funds for head and neck cancer patients in financial need and provides the cost of head and neck cancer screenings.

Then, in 2017, George recalls having had a scratchy throat for some time. “My primary doctor thought it was related to allergies,” he recalls. But he was convinced it was something more—so he and his wife participated in Lee Health’s free screening for oral, head and neck cancer.

“We host a free screening every year in April to celebrate oral head and neck cancer awareness month. We have local ear, nose and throat doctors that donate their time. It’s completely free to anybody in the community that wants to come,” says Stacey Brill, a speech-language pathologist with Lee Health who specializes in working with head and neck cancer patients.

She educates patients and their families about minimizing the effects of head and neck cancer. Stacey also provides treatment when speech and swallowing skills become impaired, such as difficulty swallowing, a major side effect of chemotherapy and/or radiation treatment.

For George, the screening was life-changing—he was diagnosed with oral pharyngeal cancer.

“The screening basically saved his life, and the screening basically caught that a lot earlier than what potentially could have happened,” Stacey says.

As she did with Dorothy 18 months before, Stacey also worked with George to help regain his swallowing skills during therapy sessions at Gulf Coast Medical Center. George received his cancer treatment at Lee Health Regional Cancer Center.

Oral cancer accounts for roughly 3 percent of all cancers diagnosed every year in the United States, or about 40.000 new cases annually. The disease is among the deadliest forms of cancer, with a death rate higher than that of cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, brain, liver, and skin cancer.

“That’s why self-exams between regular dental check-ups are so important,” says head and neck oncologist Dr. Anthony Anfuso, who works with 21st Century Oncology alongside Lee Health at the Lee Health Regional Cancer Center. “Among people diagnosed with oral cancer today, about half will be alive in five years. But when oral cancer is detected and treated early, treatment-related health problems are reduced, and survival rates may increase.”

Read this woman’s inspiring cancer journey: Free in the Wind: Throat Cancer Changed This Survivor’s Outlook

Screening and early detection of oral, head and neck cancer are now more important than ever, Stacey notes.

“Oropharyngeal cancer caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is on the rise in younger adults without traditional risk factors and has recently surpassed the rate of cervical cancer caused by HPV among women in the U.S.,” Stacey explains. “We know that HPV positive cancer carries a better chance of survival than HPV negative if it’s caught early and treated early, making screening for every adult imperative.”

She adds that the unique thing about the walk/run event is all funds raised stay in our community to provide financial assistance for a patient diagnosed with head/neck cancer regardless of when they were diagnosed.

“These funds are life-changing to many of the patients because otherwise, they have to miss treatments and/or not afford their medical supplies.”

Raised funds stay in the community 

The event supports a financial assistance program that welcomes applications from anyone with a head or neck cancer diagnosis, regardless of income. Recipients can own a home and have a job and even health insurance.

“The program was designed specifically to deal with what I was witnessing—patients with health insurance who went without services and supplies because of high copays or expensive supplies—like one person’s voice prosthesis,” Stacey says.

“These funds have covered co-pays for occupational, physical, and speech-language therapy; dental assistance for dentures, extractions, and obturators; feeding-tube supplies and formula; laryngectomy supplies; nutritional supplements; compression garments for lymphedema; Trismus devices; and other needs related to their diagnosis.”

A free head and neck cancer screening from a local nonprofit cancer foundation helped detect George’s cancer. The nonprofit, Partners In Care, provides the screenings as an annual service for our community.

When and where to walk/run and get a free cancer screening

Free screenings will be offered on April 30, 9-11 a.m., at Jaycee Park in Cape Coral, during the Head and Neck Cancer 5K Run/2-Mile Walk.

Have you recently been diagnosed with cancer and aren't sure what to do next?

A cancer diagnosis can be a scary and overwhelming time. That’s why our nurse navigators are trained to help take the stress away by guiding patients through their cancer care plans. These specialists meet patients in our hospitals or outpatient centers and advise on the next steps: Scans, tests, appointments, and the timeline involved for each.

They also answer questions, tackle transportation issues, and help with insurance concerns. By serving as a point person during treatment, navigators ensure that patients have more time to concentrate on healing.

To speak with a Lee Health Nurse Navigator, call 239-343-9500.

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