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What’s the best weapon to use against Portland P16 neck cancer?

A kick-ass wife.

Does it take a case of cancer to know if you’ve got a warrior wife?

I got married at 31. By that time I had idea of what is, and isn’t, kick-ass.

Call it life experience, or getting my ass kicked, but I had a thorough grip on the kick-ass concept.

By then I’d wrestled for a national title and lost, joined the Army and ended up in South Philly during the Rocky-era, and moved cross country and set up house four times.

Like most guys, I figured just marrying me earned my wife’s kick-ass card.

Thirty one years later she played a hand against Portland P16 neck cancer.

She kicked ass in a bruising game.

From City of Hope

A year and a half ago, my husband, Jeff, said he was having difficulty swallowing and it felt like there was a lump in his throat. When our family doctor had no answers after three visits, I insisted that Jeff go to a head and neck specialist who immediately spotted a large tumor at the base of his tongue – a place that’s undetectable by an ordinary oral examination.

That’s Pamela Tom swinging her kick-ass boot and getting her old man to the right doc.

She runs a website I like called HPV and Me.

I can relate to the base of the tongue stuff. Who knew we had such huge freaking tongues that start so far down the neck?

A kick-ass wife speaks to the tongue: “What the hell is going on down there?”

My wife noticed a lump on my neck and away we went, much like Pamela and Jeff.

Jeff’s cancer journey through simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy took seven weeks, but it put us on a life-changing path. He still lives with many side effects from the treatment but … he lives.

Note to patient: The only way a kick-ass wife knows about side effects is if you tell them.

I know about side effects from p16 throat cancer treatments, the same regime you’ll read about here.

They come with the territory. But you don’t have to share every little thing. Come on, man.

Don’t make the rest of us look bad.

I founded to provide news, information and resources to the long line of patients and caregivers who are also being forced to battle HPV head or neck cancer. I couldn’t just sit back and do nothing.

Another reason to like HPV and Me? As if being kick-ass wasn’t enough.

A wife who cares gets the closest thing to cancer you can get. They feel your feelings, hear the sounds inside your body you don’t hear, and do more to find answers to questions not asked.

That’s the difference between the player and the coach. The coach wants to know everything, the player needs to win. I wanted to know what it took to lick Portland P16 neck cancer.

Did everything sink in during doctor visits, therapy appointments, and treatment routines? Only what was needed for the work. It was more than enough.

Besides, the whole idea of chemoradiation sounds like what you get if you lived in Chernobyl, Fukushima, or Washington’s Tri-cities. That was more than enough.

I was surprised to learn that parents didn’t know the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the HPV vaccine for their sons, as well as daughters.

Talk to parents and be ready to hear reasons against the vaccine.

“It doesn’t cover every strain.”

Every strain doesn’t cause cancer.

“It has bad side effects.”

Probably not worse than chemo.

The kick-ass wife needs to be a kick-ass mom, too.

I was surprised that many folks think HPV is the same thing as herpes.

I was surprised that in the 21st century, so many people are still uncomfortable talking about sexually transmitted viruses and oral sex. No one wanted to talk about AIDS in its infancy either. Or remember when women didn’t talk about breast cancer? A social stigma prevents progress; we must get over it.

When my wife brings cancer up in conversation with others I always correct her.

“HPV16 cancer. Remember to say HPV16 throat cancer.”

“Why do you need to remind people it’s HPV cancer?” she said.

“Because I don’t want the stigma of smoking and drinking cancer.”

Laughs all around.

The CDC says 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV and about 14 million people become newly infected each year.

Boomerpdx carries a large millennial audience. How will they navigate HPV?

Here’s a non-gender specific script to follow:

“Hello, my name is Neal. I don’t have HPV, especially #16 or 18.”


“I really like you. It’s been wonderful dating the past five years. Let’s kick it up another level.”

“Okay. When do we start?”

“Right after we show each other a doctor’s note saying neither of us have HPV, especially Portland P16 neck cancer stuff.”

“I got my STD card updated last week. Nothing to report.”

“Then we’re good.”

“Almost good. Where’s yours?”

While most people’s bodies clear the virus after a couple of years, some people’s immune systems don’t recognize the virus in order to fight it. Jeff’s head and neck doctor said it’s likely that Jeff was infected by HPV decades ago in his early 20s and that the virus sat dormant in his body until it became cancer.

Jeff and I have the same story, let down by defective immune systems decades in the making.

One important point Pamela Tom makes about her kick-ass wifedom is she doesn’t point fingers.

Treatment works better than assigning blame.

Killing cancer is the common goal, along with the stigma of Portland P16 neck cancer.

What stigma?

About David Gillaspie


  1. No one deserves cancer. Not a smoker, drinker or sexually actively person. The stigma associated with these cancers (throat, lung, liver, etc.) inhibits awareness and funding to find a cure and effective treatments.

    I’m sure HPV-caused cancers have received so much attention and funding because they’ve figured out that men, and not just women (as originally thought per the initial HPV vaccine recommendations were just for girls), are falling victim to this form of cancer.

    Now, thankfully, they have broadened the recommendation to include young boys as well. When will all the other cancers that come with a stigma, especially lung, start receiving adequate funding?

    • David Gillaspie says:

      The cancer comparisons never stop.


      The Tarryton smoking gin fizz chugging 90 year old cancer patient, or the second hand smoke cancer victims he left in his path.


      The bloated binge drinker in stage 4 treatment, or the social wine sipper starting the testing rounds.


      The mangy player with the fine gold chain and a charm bracelet of STD’s, or the ‘dated two women and married the third’ romantic both with P16.

      There’s a choice to make in every case, but that shifts the focus off cancer. Without stigma it’s a common message: kill that cancer. With stigma it’s all about the messenger.

      What never changes? The slow fade cancer imposes. Comments like Sheila’s extend the debate. It’s not a political point, it’s a healthcare point.

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