When 53-year-old Tony Doucette is on the pitcher’s mound in Lynnfield, you would hardly guess that only weeks earlier he was toting around a backpack loaded with cans of liquid nutrients attached to a feeding tube that snaked into his stomach.
Doucette’s need for a feeding tube was the indirect result of treatment for tongue cancer. Within weeks of his diagnosis last November, Doucette began a course of radiation at the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers. The treatment, while highly effective, affected his ability to chew and swallow food. His doctors inserted a gastrostomy or “G” tube through the skin and stomach that enabled him to ingest nutrients while his mouth and throat healed.
Doucette chose the Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center because he knew he could receive the best care, close to home. The physicians and nursing care teams are nationally recognized for their expertise in all aspects of cancer care and apply the latest advances in the field to screening and prevention, diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment and rehabilitation.
Despite Doucette’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments, which took place five days a week for seven weeks in a row, Doucette rarely missed a day of work at his job as general manager of Lynn Ladder and Scaffolding Company. “The Cancer Center team helped minimize my treatment’s effects on my job and the rest of my life. I would show up at the Cancer Center at 7:10 a.m., and they’d have me in and out of radiation treatment and to work by 8:15,” he said. “I work for a small family-owned business that’s been in Lynn for 60 years. They were wonderful and gave me the support I needed,” he added.
Doucette also got a lot of help from the members of a support group held monthly at the Cancer Center. The group, facilitated by Cancer Center social worker Mary Anne Macaulay, is called SPOHNC (pronounced ‘sponk’) which stands for Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancers. “Head and neck cancers are some of the more challenging forms of the disease,” Macaulay said. “Our patients often have difficulty swallowing because radiation can be so harsh. Something as simple as eating steak can be an impossible task.”
Doucette is grateful for the help and understanding he received from his employer, the staff at the Cancer Center and North Shore Medical Center, and the members of his support group. His most cherished support came from his girlfriend and daughters, as well as his ex-wife. One of the highlights of his five-month cancer saga came on his birthday this past February. Because he was still using a G-tube, a traditional birthday cake was out of the question. Undeterred, his daughters made him a “cake” he’ll remember for ever. “They took a can of the liquid food I was taking and decorated it to look just like a real birthday cake with ingredients on the label like a million kisses and a billion anti-cancer cells,” he said. “It was the best birthday cake ever.”
Doucette has since had his G-tube removed and is eating normal food again. A speech and language pathologist from NSMC Union Hospital in Lynn and a registered dietitian based at the Cancer Center helped Doucette re-learn how to chew and swallow and to alter his diet accordingly. Less than six months after his cancer diagnosis, a scan in April showed that Doucette was cancer-free. Two weeks later, the Lynnfield Men’s Over 40 Softball Team had their season opener. The team members wear maroon shirts and hats, an irony not lost on Doucette, who knows from experience that head and neck cancer support ribbons are the very same color.