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On Bill Snyder, throat cancer and recovery

By Edward Seaton

Coach Bill Snyder’s announcement Monday he’s in treatment for throat cancer brings back personal memories to me that offer confidence he will bounce back as K-State football’s head man.

My own throat cancer diagnosis nearly two decades ago came the very week Snyder- coached K-State played in the 1998 Big 12 Championship. Although alarmed, I attended the game in St. Louis. Had they beaten Texas A&M they would have played in the national championship. Of course, they lost and I was doubly depressed.

I had my treatment at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, which helped develop Coach Snyder’s treatment, and I have lived a full life the past 18 years without complications other than a dry throat. I shouldn’t minimize the challenges, because they are real, but The Great Man Himself is easily up to them.

I have not spoken to the coach about his case, so I don’t know the details, which can vary a great deal. There also have been significant advances in cancer treatment. They now even offer something described as pencil- beam proton therapy. I can only relate what I went through.

First, of course, a biopsy. And then, if fortunate, identifying the primary cancer. Mine originated in a tonsil and spread to lymph glands, so doctors were able to target precisely the radiation treatment. I had six weeks of five days each of radiation. In his announcement Coach Snyder said he has already had three weeks of treatment at the KU Medical Center.

Specialists in radiology, chemotherapy and surgery at MD Anderson work together as a team to tailor treatment for each case. Six weeks after the radiation treatment I underwent old-fashioned surgery to remove the treated glands from my neck and shoulder. Today’s advances in robotics and laser surgery are likely to mean less invasive surgery and easier recovery. I had an extensive exercise and rehab program. I did not need chemo.

At that time I was serving as president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and managed to travel around the country most weekends. If the coach’s treatment follows the pattern of mine, he will be ready in late March to conduct spring football practice and follow the spring game with surgery.

The advanced therapies of today by specialists give a very high chance for success while keeping the patient’s ability to eat, speak and live a normal healthy life, according to the MD Anderson website.

Regular follow-up and screening is vital, the website states, due to the high risk of throat cancer returning to the throat or other areas in the head and neck region. Patients need to see their doctors every three to six months for the first two years after treatment, since 80 to 90 percent of new cancers occur within the first three years.

Coach undoubtedly will do the same. I now see my Houston specialist only every two years.

Ultimately, he will probably have to live with a dry throat.

Edward Seaton is chairman of the board for Seaton Publishing Company.

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