Joe Lapides’ Story

One day while in the shower as I was shaving I felt a small lump in my neck. “This is strange”, I thought. “What in the world can this be?”

But to be cautious, I went immediately to my Primary Care Physician who diagnosed “the lump” as an infection. He prescribed antibiotics and told me to use them for 10 days. After the ten day antibiotic regiment there was no noticeable change in the size of the lump. However I wasn’t too worried because the lump was not painful.

I scheduled another appointment with my doctor. After taking a look he still believed that it was an infection, probably the result of past dental work.

Dutifully I went to a specialist dentist, trying to get to the root-cause of my lump. The dentist examined my mouth and teeth and told me the lump was not dental in cause and advised me to go back (yet again) to my primary care doctor.

I am now not just “frustrated” at the lack of a diagnosis of this lump but I am becoming “worried”.

So back to the Doctor I go!

This visit to the doctor I become my own “Health Advocate”. I still respect the doctor’s acumen, but, at the same time demanding that he “do-more”. That he find a way to diagnose my lump. Tests, Scans, Specialist, whatever it would take.

I was sent to the local hospital for a needle biopsy. The test was performed. I was told by the person drawing the substance from the lump “that it looked like “an infection””. The biopsy technician said that my doctor would contact me in a couple of days.

So I went back to work overjoyed! Hurray, only an infection!

My “joy” was short-lived. As my doctor called that same day and wanted to see me in his office. I asked if he already got the lab result and he replied that he had not.

Weird — But I immediately left the office to go see him. When he entered the exam room where I was waiting it was written on his facial expression that the news to follow was not good.

He explained, “You have cancer”.

“OMG!” My first thought was “I have been given a death sentence”.

Then my first question to the doctor was: “How long do I have to live?

Now comes the “good part” of my story. For my doctor calmly and confidently and told me that with surgery and post surgery treatment that I should expect to recover. But my life would be a little different, that a “new normal” would manifest, but my life would be full, rewarding, and joyous.

Still the news was devastating and I had to go home and speak with my wife. That was going to be difficult considering we had two little boys.

After the initial “cry” my family came together. They supported and inspired me. They made sure that I did not become too depressed, too self-absorbed, or too full of self-pity. They helped me “fight-on” even on the darkest of days.

And (most importantly) they helped me keep my sense of self-worth, my sense of humor, and my sense that a “good” tomorrow was coming.

It was a journey and no one said it would be easy. There were not many people that I could ask about what to expect so the unknown created some fear. But I forged on and asked my Doctors to hit me with everything they had. I decided that I wanted to defeat this thing!

That was seven years ago – yes, the Latin’s said it right: “Tempest-Fugit”.

So, after having two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation, I am not only “still alive” but I am “full of the vitality of life”.

I am back to work, I have taken on tremendous professional challenges and responsibilities at work, I travel, I go on vacations (to even far off lands) with my family, and (most fulfilling) I come home every evening from a busy day to be with my family, to laugh, to love, to see my children mature.

After I started feeling better I was lucky to be introduced to the Head and Neck Cancer Support Group. What a Godsend this group has become. And I have committed myself to the support group’s mission “I Will Make a Difference”.

Now I am trying to help others with similar situations to overcome the fear of not knowing what to do.

Let me close by saying “thank you” to all of the people who helped me. I will not forget your kindness and support.

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