Our latest Pieces of the Continent interview is with Jason Mendelsohn, a stage IV HPV throat cancer survivor and founder of SupermanHPV.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself – name, age, job, family?
My name is Jason T. Mendelsohn; I’m 49 and was born September 24, 1969; Wife – Ronni; Kids – Boy/Girls 17 year old twins, Ryan and Lauren & an 11 year old son Adam. President of Ashar Group – We are a family owned, nationally licensed life settlement brokerage firm. We appraise life insurance, and serves as a trusted resource to financial advisors, trust & estate attorneys and CPAs. We help senior clients monetize their life insurance and annuity assets when they are no longer needed or wanted. Hobbies: Addicted to my Peloton spinning bike. Enjoy: Rye Whiskey; Favorite Singer – Sarah Brightman. Favorite Vacation spot: Bozeman, Montana.
Q. What is your story of being diagnosed?
Back in 2014, at the age of 44, I was taking a financial exam, and placed my hand on my neck. I felt a small bump that I had not noticed previously. I went to see my Ear, Nose & Throat doctor, who immediately put me on ten days of antibiotics. He said in the event that the bump did not go away, that we should immediately schedule a needle biopsy and CT scan. The bump didn’t go away, so after returning from a quick vacation and business trip, just ten days later, I had both the needle biopsy and CT scan. Three days later I was told that I had stage IV HPV throat cancer. I was totally shocked. I literally had no symptoms, and felt like I was in the best shape of my life.
Q. How did you feel when you got your diagnosis?
I was shocked, scared and confused. I could not believe that I had cancer. Quite honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind that I could have cancer, as I felt awesome, without any symptoms. I literally had no pain, was working out multiple times weekly, and had tons of energy. I was even traveling 2-3 times a month all over the country for work. I was truly in disbelief at first.
Q. What was treatment like?
Treatment seemed easy at first. I had both chemo & radiation. Chemo lasted about 8 hours each Thursday for seven weeks, and radiation was five days a week for seven weeks. For the first four weeks life seemed fairly easy. I did feel a bit tired, but that was it. Starting in week five, I began to feel nauseous from chemo, although I never threw up. My drug was Cisplatin, so my hair never fell out. That being said, I don’t have much hair to begin with, so people continued to ask me if I lost my hair from chemo, in which I explained that was just my hair! Radiation on the other hand was brutal. Starting in week 5, I developed third degree burns in my throat. I couldn’t swallow my saliva, and my phlegm was extremely thick. It got so thick that I would gag and choke 20-30 times daily for approximately a month. I would literally go to sleep at night and wake up just minutes later as the phlegm covered my airway. Similarly, I got dehydrated often, so had to feed myself seven Ensures, and two large Gatorades a day, through a feeding tube in my stomach. That’s also how I took my medication. The good news was that while I was weak, nauseous and mentally exhausted, I reminded myself daily that it was all temporary. I could do anything that was temporary for as long as I needed to survive for my wife, kids, family and friends.
Q.What was the impact of the cancer on your life?
As a stage IV HPV throat cancer survivor my life has changed for the better in several ways. While I have always been a positive person who loves his family, I am more conscience of the little things on a daily basis. I certainly tell my wife, kids, family and friends that I love and appreciate them more often. I am also more conscious of being present when I am with people. I also work hard at sharing life lessons with my kids, as I was concerned at age 44 that I wasn’t going to make 45, so life is precious. Similarly, I no longer keep things on a bucket list. I am working diligently to live life to the fullest, while creating awesome memories with my wife, kids, family and friends.
On a different note, I continue to use my experience to help others diagnosed and battling HPV throat cancer. I launched, www.SupermanHPV.com to provide inspiration and information for those diagnosed and researching HPV throat cancer, the HPV vaccine and HPV in general. When I was initially diagnosed, I searched online for information regarding HPV throat cancer and could find nothing that provided me hope that I would be ok. Everything online was fairly depressing. It focused on head and neck cancer patients that were diagnosed as a result of smoking and excessive alcohol use, nowhere dealt with HPV. Most sites described the horrible side effects from radiation that were not targeted and focused specifically on the tonsils and throat. Quite honestly, I stopped searching for information online, as I felt worse after reading people’s comments and visiting various sites. That being said, My main goal is to have my cancer story shared in as many languages as possible, on all seven continents, to save lives worldwide. I also share my story so no other parent will have to make videos to their kids saying goodbye, like I did just 4 ½ years ago. I serve on the Executive Board of the Head & Neck Cancer Alliance (www.HeadandNeck.org) and we are working diligently to form a global survivor, patient and caregiver network to help those diagnosed with head and neck cancer. I also serve on the local board in Orlando, Florida for the Florida Hospital Foundation Cancer Institute. Again, focused on sharing my story to help others.
Q. If you are in remission, how does it feel?
I am cancer free and I feel quite fortunate. As I speak with approximately 20 patients monthly, always reminding them that what they are going through is temporary, I focus on being positive and living life to the fullest. I love my wife and kids, and am focused on making awesome memories. While there is always the chance cancer can come back, I try never to think about that. As a cancer survivor that is difficult, but I do my best to simply live each day to the fullest, and impact that greatest number of people possible through sharing my story.
Q.What would you say to people who oppose gender neutral vaccination against HPV?
I have not come across people who oppose gender neutral vaccination in the United States, as most of the people I speak with simply aren’t familiar with the statistics regarding HPV. Once I share that three out of four adults by age 30 have HPV; 62% of freshman in college and that men between the ages of 40 – 60 are the most highly diagnosed, parents tell me they will go speak with their kids’ pediatrician about getting the vaccine. As I am not a doctor, I always tell people to speak with their kids’ pediatricians about the vaccine. That being said, I deal with doctors all over the United States and other countries worldwide, and all doctors have told me that they would give the vaccine to all their children, not just their daughters. I always explain to parents that rates of HPV throat cancer just this year surpassed cervical cancer. Knowing this, I have no idea how anyone could feel that the vaccine would be less important for boys. In fact, I am often told by parents that they are so thankful that they heard my story, as they gave the vaccine to their daughters, not to their sons, and they will now go see their kid’s pediatricians to get their sons vaccinated.
Q. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I often share with parents that the HPV vaccine is an Anti-Cancer Vaccine. The HPV vaccine will protect their daughters from getting cervical cancer caused by HPV; I also share that if there was a vaccine that existed to protect their daughters from getting breast cancer, they would all have their daughters vaccinated. Similarly, if there was a vaccine that protected boys from ever getting prostate cancer, all parents would give that to their sons. The HPV vaccine will protect your sons and daughters from ever getting cancer caused by HPV. This is a preventable cancer. When they understand that this is about protecting kids from cancer, and stop focusing on the “sex aspect”, they all believe it is something to discuss with their kids’ pediatricians for both their sons and daughters. I always provide people with my email address, Jason@SupermanHPV.com; my cell 407-782-5614 and my website,www.SupermanHPV.com just in case they want to touch base.