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Published on June 01, 2018

Cancer Care: Home Away From Home

In His Own Words

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"...every survivor can mentor millions. I want to pay this forward."

Watch Steve talk about his experience with HPV-positive head and neck cancer and how he now supports others on their cancer journey. 

Steve Woods has saved lives in the ER, cracked up crowds as a stand-up comedian and smoked the competition as a BBQ pit master. Yet, his most rewarding adventure has been going head-to-head with cancer and winning.

An Unexpected Find

Steve was diagnosed with Stage 4A HPV-positive head and neck cancer in November 2016. When his primary care physician Sharon D. Scott, MD, felt a swollen neck lymph node during a routine physical exam, she ordered a CT scan. The images showed one mass on the base of Steve’s tongue and another in his neck lymph nodes.

“Biopsies showed a left tongue base squamous cell carcinoma, which is the
most common head and neck cancer,” said Gaurav Prasad, MD, an ear, nose and throat physician who specializes in head and neck cancers. “The cancer was positive for the human papillomavirus, which is present in nearly 80% of newly diagnosed cancers of the tonsil or tongue base.”

No Second Thoughts

Steve, who retired from NKCH as an ER nurse, didn’t think twice about where he would go for care. “I’ve seen a lot of miracles performed at NKCH,” he said. “I knew firsthand the compassion and standard of care they give patients. I felt NKCH was home, and it was where I wanted my treatment.”

NKCH’s accredited cancer care program provides full-scale services on the hospital’s campus. From biopsies, to diagnosis and treatment, to nutrition counseling, speech therapy and fatigue management, everything Steve needed was less than 10 miles from his home.

Steve and Stephanie Woods

A Tough Seven Weeks

Surgery wasn’t an option. “We try to offer surgery if possible,” Dr. Prasad explained. “In Mr. Woods’ case, the cancer was in an area that is difficult to access surgically. Furthermore, we felt surgery would leave him with significant speech and swallowing issues. We decided chemotherapy with radiation was the best treatment option.”

Steve was in treatment five days a week for seven weeks. He gained his strength from his family, friends and wife, Stephanie. “They just kept pushing me and promised I’d make it through.”

Laughing Matters

Steve also found inspiration through his passion for comedy. In his younger years, he dabbled in comedy writing and performed a stand-up open mic nights around town. Later, he used comedy in his nursing practice.

When he became sick, Steve relied on humor to cheer up himself and others while they went through treatment together in NKCH’s infusion clinic. “I used humor throughout most of my treatment, even when I was feeling my worst.”

Mentor to Millions

Recent scans show no signs of cancer. Steve is determined to turn his experience into something positive. He created Journeys Against Cancer: No One Fights Alone, a 900-member cancer support group on Facebook. The page connects people from all over the world who have either finished treatment or are just starting the long journey.

“I want people to know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence,” Steve said. “Having cancer and going through treatment is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but every survivor can mentor millions. I want to pay this forward.”

Explore North Kansas City Hospital’s full range of cancer services.