Back in the limelight: Barbara’s Story

Barbaras storyWhen the curtain rose for a holiday stage play at her church, Barbara Sue Carlson was in her comfort zone, portraying a guardian angel on a team of angels called on to find Jesus who has gone missing from heaven at Christmas. 

In this season of hope, the retired teacher is grateful for the chance to perform again on stage after recovering from salivary gland tumor surgery that could have sidelined her from her favorite pastime. 

And she credits Henry Ford Cancer Institute head and neck surgeon Tamer Ghanem, M.D., Ph.D., for making it possible.

“From the minute I found out about Dr. Ghanem, I felt like I was in excellent care,” says Carlson, a Farmington Hills resident and longtime amateur stage play-actress. 

“I felt relieved and optimistic because he was so experienced and really cared for me. The fact that he remembered that I wanted to be in the play is incredible.”

Carlson was diagnosed June 1, 2017 with a benign tumor (a pleomorphic adenoma) in a salivary gland located in the cheek (the deep lobe of the parotid gland). Surgery is the preferred treatment option for this type of tumor.

The tumor was located underneath the facial nerve, making surgery a delicate challenge. It also has the potential of causing varying degrees of temporary – or even permanent – facial paralysis after surgery. 

“Our goal was to give her a quality of life that would enable her to do the things she enjoys,” Dr. Ghanem says. “She is very passionate about performing in plays and being an active grandmother. Her surgery and recovery has gone as well as we could have expected.”

Except for a bad case of vertigo, Carlson experienced no warning signs. Common symptoms include a lump in the cheek, and sometimes pain and facial asymmetry. Her physical condition was exacerbated by the emotions and stress of caring for her ailing father, who died a short time before her diagnosis.

After setting the surgery for after Labor Day, Carlson sought assurances from Dr. Ghanem, the director of Head and Neck Oncology and Microvascular Surgery, on whether her recovery would prevent her from performing in her church’s holiday play. Dr. Ghanem made no promises.

“He warned me that I could have facial weakness,” Carlson, a married mother and grandmother of 10 grandchildren, says of Dr. Ghanem. “He was very honest with me about how it could be.”

Much to her surprise, Carlson found the facial weakness to be minimal in her recovery. “I looked like a jack-o-lantern at first but gradually the feeling came back and I can move my facial muscles,” she says. “I can speak fine.”

Dr. Ghanem also used a “face lift incision” to remove the tumor to hide visible scars on her neck

And when Carlson takes the stage as Gloria, her angelic smile beaming, sitting in the audience will be Dr. Ghanem, no doubt smiling back.  

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