David Maggiore, Squamous Cell Carcinoma
"I feel like I've got a lot of time left."
Beating Cancer, Again and Again
For many cancer patients, the one-year anniversary since being pronounced cancer free is a day of celebration. But for David Maggiore, who three times received news that his cancer returned, anniversaries also come with a sense of worrying.
David’s initial diagnosis came after an appointment with his primary doctor for a persistent sore throat. His doctor referred him to an otolaryngologist (ENT) for a biopsy, which revealed Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma located at the base of his tongue.
Although he lost his grandfather to cancer as a child, and then his own father about ten years ago, nothing, David admits, could have prepared him for his own diagnosis.
“Going through it yourself is a whole different mindset. The clouds cleared, and the only thing I thought about was my family,” he says.
The ENT recommended David come to Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and see Francisco Civantos, M.D., associate professor of otolaryngology. Dr. Civantos told David he could perform surgery to remove the cancer; however, the entire tongue would have to be removed.
Such a major surgery would have a profound impact on David’s quality of life. He wouldn’t be able to speak, and everything he ate would have to be mashed or pureed.
Both Dr. Civantos and David wanted to pursue other options first, especially because David was still relatively young and had a wife and two school-aged children.
He told David about a clinical trial Sylvester was offering with Khaled A. Tolba, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine. It was an experimental treatment regimen, and David looked like a good candidate.
However, all of this was happening quickly, and David was hesitant about jumping into anything right away.
“I’m someone who likes to explore all options,” he says. He flew to New York to get a second opinion from another well-known cancer center. “They told me to come right back here to Miami,” David recalls. “They didn’t have the programs they have here at Sylvester.”
David returned to Sylvester and enrolled in the clinical trial.
Dr. Tolba oversaw the three types of chemotherapy David received, while radiation oncologist Aaron H. Wolfson, M.D., oversaw radiation therapy. Treatment was intense, but David was comforted by doctors telling him exactly what to expect and asking his opinion before making any major decisions.
“They walked me through, step by step. Nothing was a surprise,” he recalls.
When the cancer spread to David’s lungs, thoracic surgeon Dao M. Nguyen, M.D., joined his care team. David marveled at the collaborative efforts of a multidisciplinary team only available at a university-based cancer center like Sylvester.
In addition to his clinical care team, David’s wife, Barbara, was another pillar of strength throughout the treatment process.
“The first night, we had a long cry,” David admitted, “but after that we were good. She’s the strongest person I know.” To bring her husband’s mind to more positive thoughts during his “free time” (of which David says he had a lot), Barbara bought him a guitar, since he has always wanted to learn how to play.
“I’m proud to say I am now a self-taught guitarist,” David says. He plays in his church’s band, and cites his newfound hobby as the silver lining that came with his cancer diagnosis. He advises other cancer patients to find a similar outlet.
“Find the good out of it,” he says. “It’s there. It may not seem like it’s there, but it is. Make good use of your time.”
David is now preparing to celebrate being two years cancer free, aiming for the coveted five year anniversary when recurrence odds reduce drastically.
“Mr. Maggiore is a tremendous fighter,” says Dr. Civantos. “I believe it has contributed to his ability to survive, and has helped his physicians care for him better.”
Reflecting on the road that got him back to being healthy, David is glad he chose Sylvester. He is especially grateful for the thorough, constant follow-up care that has allowed his physicians to catch recurrences early enough to treat.
“Is it gone forever? I don’t know,” he says. “But the way they are watching me here, I feel like I’ve got a lot of time left.”