A Question About a Sore Throat Leads to a Cancer Diagnosis
May 28, 2021
In March, 2019, Levestor Johnson went to a scheduled appointment with his primary care doctor for a routine checkup. While there, his doctor asked him if he had any questions or concerns and Levestor mentioned that his throat had been feeling sore and scratchy lately. After examining his throat, his doctor said his throat did look a little swollen and recommended he follow up with UH ear, nose and throat specialist, Nicole Fowler, MD, which he did. Within a day or two, he was able to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fowler who immediately ordered a biopsy of his left tonsil which, to her eye, looked suspicious.
The biopsy confirmed that Levestor’s left tonsil contained cancer cells. “It was so scary,” says Levestor who, at the time, was only 51. “I never smoked and I’m not a drinker, so why?” For many people, the “why” is unclear, but for Levestor it was confirmed that his cancer was caused by the human papillomavirus or HPV – a virus that is responsible for nearly 70 percent of all tonsil cancers in the United States.
Just days later, on April 4, 2019, Dr. Fowler performed surgery on Levestor to remove his left tonsil. “They also took out about 25 lymph nodes out of my neck,” he says. “They scraped me out pretty good and I was in the hospital for about a week afterwards.”
Although Levestor and his care team hoped that surgery would be the only treatment he needed, upon examination, the lymph nodes revealed the presence of cancer cells, indicating that the cancer had advanced beyond the tonsil. As a result, Levestor was scheduled for both chemotherapy and radiation therapy once he was fully recovered from the surgery and strong enough to undergo further treatment.
After two months of radiation therapy and three or four chemotherapy sessions, Levestor had his last treatment on June 24, 2019. “For a while after that, I was seeing the doctors every other week for scans and bloodwork but now I just have to see Dr. Fowler every three months for a nasal scope to make sure I’m still cancer free and, so far, I am!”
“Dr. Fowler was amazing,” says Levestor. “She was always honest with me, answered all my questions and told me what to expect before, during and after treatment. She told me the truth through it all so I would be prepared for what was coming. And some of it was pretty rough,” he says. “For about ten months, the only food I could eat was Cream of Wheat and loose scrambled eggs. Then, my wife graduated me to Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes – I felt like I was in heaven!”
Although Levestor still has some appetite issues and is working to regain the weight he lost during treatment, he finally feels like he’s getting his energy back. A self-employed entrepreneur, he continued to work throughout the whole treatment process to keep his business going.
His business partner and wife of 19 years, Lyvette, was by his side throughout the diagnosis and treatment process, providing support and encouragement. In addition, Levestor is grateful for the support of his friends and his dog, Titan, an Italian Cane Corso who, in Levestor’s words, “knew I was sick and was very protective of me. He’s my dude!”
Thankful to be alive and on the road to a full recovery, Levestor now spends much of his time mentoring others who are facing a cancer diagnosis. “That’s what God wants me to do,” he says. “I talk to them and help them go through their cancer treatments – it makes a big difference.”