Peter Tork's Cancer, In His Own Words
My blog last week about musician Peter Tork's taking his current battle with a rare form of cancer to the pages of Facebook drew passionate responses from readers, many of whom thought I'd been unfair to Mr. Tork. So I invited Tork (my favorite former Monkee) to write about his experience with cancer and his decision to talk about it on Facebook for The Checkup. Here's what he had to say.
CORRECTION: Peter Tork has had only had one course of radiation, which he is currently in the midst of. This blog entry incorrectly stated that he had had two courses.
By Peter Tork
Late last year, after a few months of my not swallowing in a normal way, a friend mentioned that my voice sounded funny, kind of squawky and nasal. I'd meant to get it checked out, but her observation pushed me to doing something about it sooner rather than later. I went to an ear, nose and throat doctor, who sprayed my nostrils with anesthetic and sent a length of fiber-optic cable up my nose and down my throat. He came back with bad news. There was a growth on the lower region of my tongue. He suspected squamous cell carcinoma.
I don't count myself as being afraid to die, but the news hit me like a fist to the chest.
A subsequent biopsy and pathology exam showed that I had adenoid cystic carcinoma.
Adenoid cystic carcinoma, ACC to the cognoscenti, is a relatively rare cancer, usually occurring in the salivary glands. Mine occurred on the lower part of my tongue; that's even rarer. I wound up in New York at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where one Dr. Jatin Shah told me I should get surgery as soon as possible. I thought about it a second and said I wasn't doing anything that afternoon....
Dr. Shah laughed and amended: as soon as practicable. That turned out to be the following Wednesday, which was March 4. I woke up from that surgery with another tube up my nose and down my throat -- this one for feeding me. About three months later I began a follow-up course of radiation at a high-tech hospital in Boston, where they rev up a cyclotron and pipe protons down the hall and through a giant metal tube into my throat. (Remember electrons, neutrons and protons? Those.)
My friend Therra Gwyn, who is also my editor and publicist, suggested that if the news of my cancer seeped out without my having a say in it, it would most likely get so distorted that there'd be 30 stories out there, none of them with more than a tangential relationship with the actuality. Better she said -- and I agreed -- to tell the story myself, as best I could. Besides making sure the record was straight, telling the story out loud on a Web site and Facebook page might help the world (or that part of it that was interested) relax some fears about cancer in general and might boost attention to adenoid cystic carcinoma in particular. Also, it might just help me keep a right-sized attitude about life and myself. Otherwise, you know, it'd be like: I'm a celebrity, get me offa this planet! Can't have that.
As of this writing, I'm just beginning to feel the effects of the second course of radiation, a bit of soreness on the tongue, some unpleasant effects when swallowing. So far, not too bad.
I have a couple of performance dates lined up, which I've opted not to cancel. I know I'm taking a chance here, because one of the side effects of the radiation is supposed to be hoarseness. The radiologist told me, "Well, you play guitar and you sing. Perhaps you won't sing, but maybe you'll play guitar a lot more."
I recovered very quickly after my surgery, and I've been hoping that my better-than-average constitution will keep the worst effects of radiation at bay. My voice and energy still seem to be in decent shape, so maybe I can pull these gigs off after all. Just in case, though, I've invited some friends to join me, including my friend Lauren, a world-class slide guitar player. People will be so dazzled by her that they won't notice whether I'm doing well. I'm also bringing in belly dancers, and I'm expecting a fly-over by the Royal Canadian Air Force. Maybe elephants.
I mean to do those shows.
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