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Laughing Through Cancer

Turning to humor helps one patient cope with a rare cancer of the nasal cavity

Marty Schultz and his brother Joe and father
Marty Schultz (center) goofs around with his brother Joe (left) and father Joe Sr.

photo credit: Edda Pacifico

Marty Schultz, 65, spent two years dealing with fatigue and sinus drainage before a local otolaryngologist took a biopsy. The Pinconning resident was diagnosed with low grade olfactory neuroblastoma, a rare cancer of the sinuses. He was referred to Erin McKean, M.D., MBA, the division chief of rhinology and skull base surgery at Michigan Medicine.

Schultz was not amused but, as someone who relies on humor, found himself making jokes with his brother, Joe, who accompanied him to his initial visit. McKean didn’t miss a beat and joked right back.

“She was very down to earth and witty,” Schultz says. “She picked up on the sarcastic jokes my brother and I threw around during the appointment.”

McKean approached his treatment with a positive outlook. In addition to a lengthy surgery using a new technique, Schultz would receive radiation therapy to target any remaining cancer. Risks included loss of taste, smell and vision.

“His operation involved using scopes through the nose to remove the tumor, the sinuses, the bone between the brain and the sinuses, and the brain coverings surrounding the cancer,” McKean says. “He healed beautifully from all of that, with no incisions on his face and no visible sign that he had brain surgery.”

Schultz did lose his sense of taste and smell after surgery, but his vision was not affected. As he recovered and began radiation therapy, he continued writing about his experience in humorous columns he called Laughing Through Cancer. He has written over 60 columns that have appeared in the Pinconning Journal, his local newspaper.

Radiation therapy was next and proved to be difficult. Schultz experienced mucositis, painful sores in the sensitive lining of the mouth. He found eating nearly impossible and lost weight.

“I had to force myself to eat to avoid a feeding tube. One night I asked God for a good night’s sleep. That sleep gave me the will to fight. I managed to eat and get through it,” Schultz says.

After 30 radiation treatments, Schultz finally got to ring the victory bell that signifies the end of treatment. Two weeks later, an MRI and PET scan found no cancer. He continues to follow up with McKean every four months.

“Marty’s attitude and humor for sure helped him get through,” McKean says. “It was mentally important for him, I believe, and it’s also nice for his treating team. We all need a smile and positive attitude to work through these challenging cancers. As a team, we need to build each other up.”

Life after cancer has been good, Schultz says, and he’s gotten back to the physical work he loves, taking care of his one-acre property. He fishes when the weather is good. This winter, he looks forward to downhill skiing, another passion.

Losing his sense of smell and taste was an adjustment, but he’s gotten used to not eating as much as he used to and never going back for seconds.

“I can drink chocolate milk or white milk and don’t know the difference. But I don’t think it’s that bad if it means saving my life,” he says.

Check out some blurbs from Marty Schultz’s Laughing Through Cancer column in the Pinconning Journal

Marty Schultz

photo credit: Edda Pacifico

Now not every cancer is a death sentence there are millions of survivors of hundreds of different types of cancer walking among, by, and around us each day and we don’t even know it. I decided that day it wasn’t going to be a day of doom but a day of survival to keep 'Enjoying Life' through what I now call 'My Journey.' I was going to laugh and enjoy each moment with the intention of sharing, educating, and inspiring others along the way.

So, with the help of my trusty Webster’s Pocket Dictionary and ever present Thesaurus (bet you can’t pronounce that properly), I decided I’d write a book titled Laughing Through Cancer It’s the Best Medicine. Each week while I’m on 'My Journey' and until it is completed I plan to reveal what I’ve learned and hopefully make you laugh along with me with a few exerts.


Entering a packed waiting room of the department of Otolaryngology, Head, and Neck Surgery at the U of M I was asked my name and birthdate. I was greeted with 'Mr. Schultz' that brought my response with a smile 'No that’s my dad I’m Marty'.”

Suddenly it was like the secret under counter alarm button was pushed as the registering staffer said in a louder than normal voice 'Patient of Dr. McKean!' I was greeted instantaneously by a nurse who handed me medical records to review and a pager with the words to have a seat they’d be right with me. I didn’t even get a chance for my butt to warm the seat when I was brought back to an examining room amongst the stares and thoughts of 'What’s Up With That!' from those in the waiting room.

I’m now thinking who is this Dr. McKean and why am I so special?


"To be continued . . . Keep Enjoying Life!"

--Marty Schultz's signature sign-off in Laughing Through Cancer

Continue reading the Fall, 2018 issue of Thrive

Read other stories of cancer survivorship and sharing hope

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Thrive Issue: 
Fall, 2018