Surviving a hard-to-swallow cancer diagnosis

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Surviving a hard-to-swallow cancer diagnosis

Like most children in the 1960s, Jeff Wilson had a routine tonsillectomy when he was six years old. End of story . . . right? Wrong!

When Wilson was 50 years old, he experienced a sore throat for two weeks that did not respond to a heavy dose of antibiotics. His primary care physician at Lexington Medical Center scheduled him for an appointment with an ear, nose and throat specialist at the same hospital—which revealed that his tonsils had partially grown back (not an uncommon phenomenon). 

“Your left tonsil is much larger than your right one and that seems a little strange to me,” the specialist said. “We’re going to do a biopsy.”

The biopsy report came back positive for squamous cell cancer, stage 3.

“I was referred to a surgical specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). But I was told the tumor was too close to my carotid artery, and to the nerves—so they couldn’t do surgery,” said Wilson, who is currently senior vice president and general counsel at Lexington Medical Center in West Columbia, South Carolina.

Instead, he was started on the chemotherapy drug cisplatin—in addition to radiation therapy. At the time of his treatment, he was not aware that the chemotherapy drug being infused into his body had been developed at his alma mater—Michigan State University.

“It was a very tough battle; I lost nearly 40 pounds,” Wilson said. “I’m thankful to be on the other side of it—and alive!”

Wilson received both his B.S. in microbiology 1998 and his graduate law degree 2002 from MSU. When he received a copy of an MSU alumni publication last year he read an article about the 40-year anniversary of an anti-cancer drug that had been developed at MSU—cisplatin.

“I was looking at the article and I couldn’t believe it,” Wilson said. “Ironically, cisplatin was developed at MSU, my alma mater, and not too long after I’d been born.” 

“I’ve had a lot of coincidences in my life but this one hit pretty close to home,” Wilson continued. “I could have gone to college anywhere, but I chose Michigan State. It just struck me as an overwhelming rush of gratitude for the scientists who are part of the university and that they did something so terrific,” he said. “I’m very proud of my university and the things that were set in motion way before my time . . . not knowing that decades later, it would save my life.” 

Today, more than two years from his last treatment, Wilson is cancer free.

“I thank God, my family and friends, my doctors and the excellent staff for their care and support—and my alma matter for developing cisplatin,” Wilson said.  

“Our motto at Lexington Medical Center is ‘it’s our fight too!’ I learned that firsthand at my hospital and am thankful my care team was there for me along the way,” he continued.

“I was born in 1966 in Michigan and I love this state and my Spartans. I will always bleed green and white. Patients like me—and their families—appreciate the research work Spartans do every day!”