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A Survivor’s Story

A Survivor’s Story

“It isn’t fun.” Eugene Bowen takes an understated approach to explaining what it’s like to have cancer. Since the 56-year-old Ansonia resident was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in early 2005, he’s taken a crash course in how to live with – and fight – this disease.

Fortunately, he’s also been able to take advantage of a series of cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment tools that have been effective in combating his cancer and putting him back on the road to recovery.

“My cancer was discovered by a fortunate accident,” Bowen says. “Because I had some periodontal disease, I saw my dentist for checkups and cleanings three times a year. It was during one of these exams that a little spot on my tongue, about the size of a cold sore, was found.”

Concerned with the appearance of the spot, the dentist suggested a biopsy. Three days later, Bowen was told he had a malignant tumor in his tongue.

Bowen’s doctors and other caregivers at Saint Raphael’s Father Michael J. McGivney Center for Cancer Care had at their disposal a range of up-to-the-minute imaging and treatment techniques. In addition to administering powerful chemotherapy medications, his team was able to pinpoint the precise location of his cancer through the use of a PET-CT scanner, the first of its kind in southern Connecticut. By combining the PET scan’s ability to detect bodily changes related to metabolism with the CT scan’s clear images of internal anatomy, PET-CT enables doctors to precisely pinpoint the size, shape and location of a tumor.

In Bowen’s case, the imaging indicated the cancer was confined to his tongue and a single lymph node. “I had been afraid it might have spread to my jawbone,” he says. “So I was pleased to get the news it was still fairly localized.”

Bowen’s cancer was also treated with another new technology at the McGivney Center. Intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) allowed doctors to send out powerful radiation beams from multiple angles that conformed themselves to the exact shape of his tumor, thus protecting healthy surrounding tissue. The number of sessions recommended varies from patient to patient; Bowen had 35, each lasting approximately 15 minutes.

Stereotactic radiosurgery is another effective head and neck cancer treatment option.

“I wore a mask, molded to provide a unique fit for me, to help guide the radiation to precisely the right location,” he says. “The treatments were painless.” Even the side effects of Bowen’s radiation were managed through new technology and pharmacological care. He did experience some tooth loss, and had a feeding tube to channel food directly to his stomach while the affected areas of his mouth healed. But he was able to prevent one of the more uncomfortable consequences of radiation in the oral area. “Because radiation can affect the salivary glands,” Bowen says, “you can end up with a chronically dry mouth, but I was able to enroll in a clinical trial of a medication to protect the salivary glands during radiation, which prevented most of this problem.”

Recently he began – in small steps – to eat normally again. “I’m really looking forward to quality time at the dinner table!” he laughs.

Now through with his chemotherapy and radiation, Bowen is still seen regularly by Saint Raphael Radiation Oncologist Robert Sinha, M.D.

“His office – and all the staff at the McGivney Center – have been terrific,” he says. “Very responsive. When you have cancer, so many questions come up, some small and some large. I was delighted at how responsive the staff is. Every time I called with a concern, the doctor responded quickly and was generous with his time. I was never made to feel that I was bothering anyone, or that they were in a hurry to move on to something else.”

Bowen anticipates being back at his job as a construction supervisor soon. “In my treatment at Saint Raphael’s, I was helped by a lot of new technologies and medicines,” Bowen says. “But the best thing of all is that the people at the center are just remarkably kind. Even the little things show how caring the center is, like the stained glass effect on the ceiling that you can see while you’re having your treatment. They really look at cancer treatment from the perspective of the patient.”

Page last updated on Nov. 26, 2008