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– Marcia's Story

Marcia’s Story

UPDATE: It is with a heavy heart that we share Marcia’s passing on November 25, 2019. Her memory will live on in our organization, community, and beyond. We are proud and grateful to have known her. We encourage you to read her Survivor Story below. You can read her full obituary HERE.

I am Marcia Brickner, a head and neck cancer survivor. My nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) diagnosis came as an enormous shock when I was only 49. Never having heard of this myself, let me give you some background on this particular head and neck cancer. It originates in the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose and near the base of the skull. This serves as a passageway for air traveling from the nose to the throat (and then to the lungs). Nasopharyngeal cancer (NPC) is quite rare. In most parts of the world including the United States, there is less than one case for every 100,000 people each year. It’s significantly more common in certain parts of South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and in men. In certain regions of China, there are as many as 21 cases per 100,000 people.

Treatment

Following the diagnosis, my local oncologist referred me to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion. In my case, the mass was inoperable therefore I would need radiation and chemotherapy. After doing my own research, I decided to have my treatment regimen performed at Hopkins. I endured over 40 radiation treatments and three months of chemotherapy and commuted every day from Harrisburg to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Monday through Friday. I lost my ability to eat orally due to the intense radiation pain, so I had an abdominal feeding tube (G tube). Treatments were difficult because of their side effects. Some of them were long-lasting.

Clinically Cured– Marcia's Story

I was clinically cured for 12 years and remained cancer-free until May of 2016. I lost my voice at work and naturally assumed I had laryngitis. After waiting a few days, I went to the doctor who suggested I see my ear, nose, and throat doctor. After a strong course of antibiotics with no improvement, scans revealed a new primary cancer in the pharynx area which was the cause of my paralyzed voice box. We went back to Johns Hopkins for a second opinion, only to find out this was a radiation-induced carcinoma from the prior radiation. There is a mere 5% chance of developing a second primary cancer from radiation therapy and I was an unlucky statistic.

The surgeon we met with at Hopkins performed a biopsy on the base of my tongue and found malignancy there also. Moving forward required the surgical removal of my tongue, a portion of the pharynx, and removing the voice box (laryngopharyngectomy), with reconstruction using muscle from my quadricep. It was a long recovery—and continues to be—physically and emotionally. A few of my vital senses vanished that day. Without the tongue and vocal cords, I can no longer speak, eat solid food, taste, or smell. The first several post-op weeks were a very difficult time for me. I have a strong, unwavering faith in God and was trusting in Him to guide me through this new lifestyle for myself and my husband. I had to experience the grieving process for the loss of these senses we take for granted every day.

– Marcia's StoryHaving Hope

In January of 2017, it was apparent the cancer was growing again in my neck. This meant that the surgery had not removed all of the cancer. I was admitted to a clinical trial at Hopkins, experimenting with the effects of radiation in conjunction with immunotherapy on head and neck patients. While only temporarily stabilizing the cancer, my second course was chemotherapy. Now, my last option is to seek out another clinical trial. I continue to have hope that there is a new treatment for my cancer. The past two and half years have been a life-changing journey.

Earlier this year, I heard about the LIVESTRONG® at the YMCA program offered for cancer survivors. I signed up for the 12-week program that started in early March. Each workout is helping me gain my strength and stamina back to combat the side effects of chemotherapy. It also has the added bonus of meeting other cancer survivors. I am grateful for this opportunity.

 

Marcia Dietz Graves Brickner

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