Survivor Spotlight: Patrick Garvey

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Survivor Spotlight: Patrick Garvey

When Patrick Garvey first discovered the small lump on the right side of his neck in December 2012, he made an appointment to see an ear, nose and throat specialist—just to make sure it was nothing serious. The specialist referred him to a surgical clinic for a biopsy.

“We could biopsy it now,” the surgical clinic doctor said, “or we could wait six months and check it again.”

“My dad had head and neck cancer, and it was very aggressive,” Garvey said. “So I wanted to be proactive with this lump.”

When the biopsy report came back, Garvey heard the words no one wants to hear: “You have cancer.”

Before he knew what was happening, he found himself reclining in a chair in Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital with a chemotherapy drug being infused into his body through a port. That drug was cisplatin.

“I really didn’t know what cisplatin was, to be honest,” Garvey said. “I hadn’t heard about it and I didn’t know it was developed at MSU. At the time, I just put full trust in my doctors.” 

Those initial weeks were a blur. Squamous cell. Removal of lymph nodes. Second biopsy. Put in a port. Secondary site. Radiation treatments. Cisplatin. Feeding tube.

The oncologists had discovered that the cancer found in Garvey’s neck was a secondary cancer; but after a battery of tests, they were still unable to determine the primary cancer site.

“They told me the treatment was going to be very aggressive but my cancer would probably be 100 percent cured,” Garvey said. “When you know you will have that kind of outcome, you can endure a lot.”

That included having to endure a feeding tube. “I couldn’t swallow very well. I couldn’t eat. I had to take formula through a feeding tube for about a year,” he added.

“When my dad had cancer 20 years earlier, he had to breathe through a stoma because he had his throat removed. He never talked again,” Garvey said. “Cancer treatments have come a long way since then.”

Garvey’s treatment consisted of several chemotherapy infusions, each lasting several hours. He also endured roughly 35 radiation treatments over the course of about 7 weeks, 5 days a week. Since the doctors could not pinpoint the locale of the primary cancer, the radiation treatment was broad—from his sinuses down to the uppermost part of his lungs.

In addition to the typical chemotherapy side effects, he experienced one of the major side effects of cisplatin—hearing loss and a ringing in the ears, which he still experiences. He also wears hearing aids.

“At least I knew where to go to get my hearing aids,” Garvey laughed. He is the owner of Meridian Hearing, LLC in Okemos, Mich., with additional locations in Howell, Ionia and Mt. Pleasant. Garvey began his career with an apprenticeship position and now has 40 years of experience in the industry.

“We are changing people’s lives, improving the quality of people’s lives with better hearing,” he said.

“Sometimes I wonder, ‘Why was I spared with this cancer?’” Garvey continued. “After you go through a life-threatening experience, such as cancer, I believe you really need to focus on what you should do now that you have a second chance. What can you do to help the people around you?”

Garvey has also learned to take time to simply enjoy life, including writing, bicycling and sailing his Catalina 34 sailboat—Le Voyage.

His last chemo treatment was May 1, 2013, and he remains cancer-free.

“A little bit of hearing loss and a little bit of hoarseness is a fair trade to be able to live my life,” Garvey said.

“Cisplatin has been around for 40 years now. It’s amazing to think of the number of lives it’s helped save—including mine.”