Tony Overcomes CancerMost sales representatives follow certain steps that lead to closing a deal. But for Tony Urbanik who had 30 years of sales experience, a “done deal” could only mean defeating the cancer on his tonsil. He would overcome the “why me” struggle and then imitate the hope and enthusiasm of his expert cancer team at Henry Ford Hospital.

Tony loves to relax and blast his favorite rock n’ roll music. “The louder the better,” says Tony from his computer room filled with 100 baseball caps and other sports memorabilia. At age 56, he was in good health, and he loved spending time with his family, camping, hiking, biking and taking road trips with Mary, his wife of 40 years.

Quick Action and Solutions

One afternoon, in the middle of a good life, Tony thought that a piece of popcorn was stuck in his throat. A mirror check showed half of his tonsil was swollen. Inclined to immediately solve problems, he went to Henry Ford Urgent Care in Sterling Heights.

A few days later, during an appointment with Suhael Momin, M.D., an ear, nose and throat specialist, Tony learned that cancer was suspected. A biopsy confirmed stage 2 squamous cell carcinoma in the throat.

Then Tony sunk into a “why me” mental struggle. No history of smoking. No family history of head and neck cancer. But he would soon learn that the cancer was likely the result of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that had been dormant for years.

Kicking into gear, Tony and his family met for a six-hour “adventure” with a team of healthcare providers, including a radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, speech therapist, dietitian, and others.

“They were all on the same page with the same plan,” says Tony.

The multidisciplinary team determined Tony would need 35 treatments of radiation, Monday through Friday for seven weeks. Additionally, Tony would receive a radiosensitizing chemotherapy infusion every Thursday to enhance the killing effect of the treatment on cancer cells.

A customized immobilization mask was created to ensure that the tumor was treated precisely, and healthy tissue was protected. During radiation treatments, Tony appreciated laughing with the technicians and hearing their caring voices.

He was treated using external beam intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which minimizes radiation to healthy organs and shapes the radiation beam to accurately treat the cancer.

“Patients experience significant side effects when they undergo radiation therapy for head and neck cancers,” says Farzan Siddiqui, M.D., Ph.D., director of Head and Neck Radiation Oncology and vice-chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology. “To manage side effects, patients receive expert care from our collaborative team. In addition to the treating radiation oncologist, the team includes a speech-language pathologist, clinical psychologist and dietitian.”

During the first 2-3 weeks of treatment, Tony lost his taste buds. He perceived textures only, not taste, and he lost 60 pounds. To maintain the swallowing reflex and prevent the need for a feeding tube, a speech-language pathologist taught him swallowing exercises, and his son gave him a super, weight-gainer protein powder.

“I could swallow my morning meals and evening meals in three minutes,” laughs Tony.

Eventually, his taste for savory food returned. Compensating for the loss of other tastes, Tony spent his mealtimes focusing on good conversations with his family and friends.

During and after treatment, Tony relied on his deep faith and the support of his family and prayer groups at his Catholic church. Plus, he imitated the positive examples of the cancer team.

Tony with Grandson

“I had these people fighting for me. The least I could do was to be upbeat and keep my spirits high,” says Tony.

“Henry Ford does a fabulous job with the pre-care and post-care. I never had to call and schedule appointments. They reached out and did it all for me. Dr. Momin and Dr. Siddiqui gave me their cell phone numbers and said to call any time,” says Tony. “We all have bad days, and doctors are no different. But I never felt like they were just earning a paycheck. That’s why I’m in their care.”

“From the person at the welcoming desk to the nurses, technicians, doctors and the people cleaning the rooms – the empathy at Henry Ford was universal. Their mission was the same: We’re in this together,” says Tony.

To give back, Tony has worked as a volunteer at the welcome desk in the new Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion in Detroit.

“I’m passionate about talking to people and being genuine. I like to bring out the strengths in people and wake them up,” says Tony, now 60 and working at a post-retirement job in the office for Oakland County Parks.

“This experience has grounded me in the importance of being happy with what you have, not envious about what you don’t have. It’s also taught me to live where you stand. You can’t change yesterday, and tomorrow hasn’t happened yet,” says Tony.

Meet the team
One Team. All for You.
Our team of head and neck cancer experts work together to ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan based on your unique needs.

Practical Advice

The symptoms of head and neck cancers can include a long-lasting sore throat, hoarseness, earaches and swollen lymph nodes. Additional symptoms may include persistent pain and difficulty swallowing, nasal congestion, bleeding from the nose and unexplained weight loss. During your regular dental exams and visits with your primary care physician, healthcare providers can look for sores or red or white patches, and they can check for lumps in the throat and neck.

Tony says to do your homework and learn about the disease. Seek people with compassion. If you’re not happy, advocate for yourself and seek other people who will advocate for you. Accept offers for help. And whatever faith you have, lean into it.

His future?

“Now, I just want to live to a ripe old age,” says Tony. “I want to play catch with my grandsons, spend time with my wife and enjoy each other for the next 40 years.”
Newly diagnosed?
You are not alone. Like Tony, others have success stories to share.
Tony Overcomes Cancer

Crucial Catch Tony

Crucial Catch Tony 2

Tony was honored during the NFL Detroit Lions Crucial Catch game in October 2023


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