My name is Moses Schilling. I was diagnosed with tonsil cancer in 2017.
The story begins at the beginning of 2017. A lot was going on in our lives. We were preparing for my wife to have a couple of very intense back surgeries. She had some scoliosis as a child, which had exacerbated over the years. So, we had two different surgeries set up to fuse all the discs in her back, which began in February. About that time, I noticed a little bit of a swelling in my throat, which wasn’t too big of a deal. Your lymph nodes swell up; you get sick, you get well, you go on down the trail. I saw my general practitioner about that, and he said, “That’s nothing to worry about; here are some antibiotics.”
Receiving a Diagnosis
I honestly didn’t overthink it. I had so many other things going on right then that were much more important. We concentrated on convalescing Vicki through her first surgery and her second surgery. Going on to about mid-May, I realized that the swelling in my throat was still a problem. Of course, all along, it was still there. You don’t think about yourself when so many other things are going on. I wasn’t allowing myself to worry about it.
In May, I went back to my GP, and he raised an eyebrow a little bit and said, “Okay, maybe we do need to look at that a little closer.” I contacted an ENT that I had seen before and trusted. We visited with him, and after he examined me, we decided that the lymph nodes need to come out. So, we set up the first surgery, had the lymph nodes taken out. A few days later, he called and said, “Well, Moses, it’s cancer.”
But he also said, “Before you get too excited or to get too worried.” He said, “Let me tell you, I’ve known several people that have had this type of cancer.” He said, “It’s very treatable.” He said, “Your survivability is great.” He said, “I don’t know anybody that’s expired from this.”
He also said there were ways I could live a very normal life. So, before I started worrying too much, we would get back together and talk about the next steps. He made a recommendation to an oncologist. I went and met the oncologist and spoke with him a little bit. He was with the Oklahoma Proton Center. We talked about a treatment plan, visited with him, and just liked him, liked everybody we came in contact with there.
Familiarity with Proton Therapy
My wife and I had followed the news of the Proton Center when it came to Oklahoma City because we thought it was just incredible. We were one of the few places in the country to have this kind of technology. We often talked about how great it was that Oklahoma City had this type of precision medicine. Of course, we hoped never to need cancer treatment, but we thought if proton therapy were an option for treating my cancer, we wanted to pursue it. So, that’s how the treatment plan started.
At that time, we had, I guess you would say, layman’s familiarity with proton therapy. We understood the concept and that it would be a very focused type of radiation. It would be much less invasive than standard radiation. From that perspective, we liked it because we understood that it would keep the side effects to a minimum, and quality of life after treatment would be better. At that point, you’re not sure what the extremes are, from one therapy or next.
So, we knew very little at that point. We were doing many internet searches and trying to educate ourselves and learn about this. By the time we got done, we had pretty well searched to the end of the internet about tonsillar cancers, treatments, and different types of options and outcomes. We went from almost no knowledge to nearly too much, pretty quick. Of course, we got lots of good help from our doctor at the proton center as well.
Discovering the Difference
In learning about the problems associated with traditional radiation, there was a huge disparity in the difference between people who had conventional radiation and people who had proton therapy. The after-effects, long-term effects, and quality of life for recovering patients were much more encouraging for proton therapy patients. All this did was solidify in our minds that this was the direction that we wanted to pursue. There wasn’t any question about whether that was the thing to do.
Our discussions with the ENT pointed to proton therapy as well. He said it was an excellent way to go and highly recommended treatment at Oklahoma Proton Center. The oncologist we were working with was also a firm proponent of proton radiation. This was our direction. This was our goal. This was where we wanted to be.
My Experience at Oklahoma Proton Center
From the moment you walk in, you can tell that it’s not your typical cancer facility. The ladies at the front are just wonderful, warm and bubbly, and very positive. Everyone I came into contact with was incredibly kind. The technicians, the people making the mask for me, everyone was friendly and upbeat. The care team, my nurse, my doctor, everyone was very positive and accommodating. I felt a great kinship with all of them. I felt like these people really and truly cared about me as an individual and as a person. It made a very dark time so much better, and they will always have a special place in my heart.
The day we were trying to decide what to do, we sat with our doctor at the Center for two hours. We discussed back and forth the differences in treatment and what would happen if we weren’t able to get proton therapy. That’s the kind of people that are there. He never hurried us. He spent time with us and shared his thoughts and some of his own stories on his journey. I was grateful for that. As long as I live, I’ll never forget how the doctor treated us that day.
What Cancer Has Taught Me
At my age, you can look back and have a little bit of perspective on your life. Going through the young gun days of my life, you don’t give a whole lot of thought to later on in life. You’re living in the moment, and you’re pursuing life and trying to have as much fun as you can. When you go through something like this, you examine your life. At my age, I’ve come to realize there’s more behind me than in front of me. It has influenced a lot of our decision-making in what we do, not just with the treatment of proton therapy but with other things in our life.
We don’t put off things that we want to do anymore. We pursue things that are enjoyable to our life that we would typically have put off. For our 25th wedding anniversary or when we retire, we had plans to go to Italy and spend a couple of weeks there. After all this, we moved the plans up.
We went there last year, and it turned out to be a real blessing because it was a wonderful place to go. It’s such a beautiful country and with wonderful people. Then right after we got back, Venice flooded. Then all the things that you know about happened with COVID. It just made us grateful that we’ve adopted this philosophy to pursue life and to enjoy life as much as we can.
We don’t know if we’re going to have tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year. We don’t focus on the little things anymore that are nuances as much. We focus on the things that we can enjoy. It’s brought my wife and me closer together.
If you can say that cancer was a blessing, then I would say that these things are the blessings that came from it. If you had asked me ten years ago if that’s how I would feel, I don’t believe I would have said so. I genuinely think I would have felt otherwise. I’m grateful to appreciate life so much more now.