Laughing Through Cancer
Turning to humor helps one patient cope with a rare cancer of the nasal cavity
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
Continue reading the Fall, 2018 issue of Thrive