While in Florida in 2015, Ed Baird came down with a sore throat. He and his wife, Linda, figured it could be from pollen or other things in the Floridian air that they weren’t used to. But after antibiotics didn’t help and his throat still hurt when he returned to Rochester, he saw his primary care doctor, Christopher Momot, M.D., who referred him to see Shawn Newlands, M.D., Ph.D., a head and neck cancer surgeon at Wilmot Cancer Institute.
Ed had a biopsy and the next day learned he had stage 4 tonsil cancer. His team said he needed treatment right away. Without treatment, his team predicted he had six months to live.
“During that meeting, you hear all this horrible stuff so quickly and so fast that, I'm typically a really strong person, but I just broke down,” Linda says.
Ed had a tooth removed and a feeding tube put in. Then he began chemotherapy under his medical oncologist, Deborah Mulford, M.D. The treatment made him nauseous at first, but his oncologist was able to make changes to the treatment to help make it more tolerable. He also received radiation therapy at the same time, with Deepinder Singh, M.D. Having a whole group of specialists caring for Ed made a huge difference.
“It was a whole team thing. Every time they got together, it was Dr. Mulford and Dr. Singh and Dr. Newlands and then the physician’s assistants plus a lot of students that came through that worked with them and would also examine me and talk to me and look at me,” Ed says.
The couple had planned a trip to Italy but ended up having to cancel because of Ed’s diagnosis. The months of July and August were not easy. At one point, Ed had to be hospitalized for two weeks at Wilmot Cancer Center because his pain was so bad and he had been losing weight.
Ed was still there on his and Linda’s 35th wedding anniversary.
“We’d always go to Hedge’s, that’s where we had our wedding reception at, or we would go on a trip back to Bermuda. We would do something special,” Baird says. “This year, we were sitting on a bed here at the hospital and that’s when I said, sometimes, a lot less is so much more.”
At this point, he thought about quitting treatment, but Linda and the team at Wilmot kept him going.
“It was a horrible time but everybody was great,” Linda says. “The nursing staff was always fantastic.”
“And they kept you informed,” Ed says. “They like to ask you, ‘any questions or problems?’”
Ed completed chemotherapy and radiation but suffered side effects for quite a while longer. He lost his taste buds and his salivary glands weren’t working properly, which led to dry mouth. He was anemic and had thyroid and kidney problems. He also could not eat and swallow properly.
To help him learn how to swallow and eat again, he went to therapy with a swallowing specialist at Wilmot who specializes in helping patients who have head and neck cancers. That’s when he volunteered for a research study to evaluate swallow function while receiving chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
“I wanted to help other patients who are going through the same issues and help educate doctors further,” Ed says.
Three months out from his surgery, a PET scan revealed no signs of cancer, but he wasn’t out of the woods yet. His jaw had suffered from the radiation therapy and it wasn’t healing properly, so he went to the Strong Wound Healing Center for hyperbaric oxygen therapy to try to encourage healing.
That helped for a while, but in 2017, his jaw broke while he was eating and he needed to have his jaw bone replaced. He underwent two surgeries – one 13 hours long and the second eight hours long. Through these surgeries, Newlands and Paul van der Sloot, M.D., took a bone from Ed’s leg to rebuild his jaw. Recovery wasn’t easy. Ed required another feeding tube, through the nose this time. Surgery was challenging because Ed has psoriasis so doctors had to avoid certain areas of his skin. But he has made it through, though he now walks with a cane occasionally.
He and Linda are looking forward to passing the five-year mark since his diagnosis next year. They now spend a lot more time in Florida, and they’ve been able to schedule a new trip to Italy to make up for the one they missed when Ed was first diagnosed: They’re planning a cruise that will involve less walking for Ed than the original trip would’ve.
They’ll be at sea for their 40th anniversary, Aug. 9, 2020, thanks to the Wilmot medical team, their faith, their love and a sense of humor. They look forward to that, and every opportunity they have to be together.
“We're finally getting to do things that to you do in retirement,” Ed says. “We’re enjoying it.”