Cancer survivor encourages prevention measures

Saturday, April 26th 2008, 10:47 pm
By: News 9

By Christian Price, INsite Team

Lying saved Donald Gardner's life.

In February of 2003, Donald Gardener discovered a lump in his neck. His primary care physician had passed away prior to the discovery of the lump, which left Gardener without a doctor. He contacted his father's physician complaining of severe ear problems. Once he was in the examining room, he confessed the real reason he was there which started a chain reaction that ultimately saved his life.

The doctor he saw that day was concerned enough with the mass to arrange for Gardener to be examined by Dr. Perry Santos at Integris Baptist Medical Center who specializes in oral, head and neck cancers.

"He suspected that I did in fact have cancer somewhere in my body. An area that he was somewhat suspicious of was at the base of my tongue," Gardner said. "While he was doing the surgery, he scraped that area and sent that for biopsy and it did turn out to be the location."

The moment when Gardner found out from Dr. Perry Santos he had cancer is as vivid today as it was on February 19, 2003.

"When I heard I had cancer, I thought, ‘You know, why is this happening,' and I think that's a very common reaction," Gardner said. "But then once I was resigned to it, which was right then in that same meeting, I just went, ‘Well, OK. How soon do we start?"

According to Dr. Santos , there is one act of prevention that everyone needs to do.

"Early detection is the key. You know, somebody has a non-healing ulcer in the mouth. If somebody has hoarseness. If somebody has a neck mass that doesn't go away in a relatively short period of time, all those things really need to be checked out because those could be early signs of cancer," Santos said.

People generally procrastinate about annual physician examines which is detrimental.

"If we can pick up a cancer early on, the survival rates are fantastic, but unfortunately sometimes people will come in for different reasons, very late in the process of developing their head and neck cancer," Santos said. "Then it becomes much more difficult. The treatment gets more difficult. The survival is lower, just more challenging."

In the last five years of being cancer free, Gardner has been able to take advantage of life. He visits regularly with people who are just now beginning their personal battles and answers questions that they might have. He also offers hope.

"The other nice thing that's happened here is that, I have seen the birth of two great-grandchildren, two grandchildren, and the marriage of two children," Gardner said.  "I've been blessed. Almost five years now and I wouldn't have had that. I wouldn't have seen that. So, life is good."