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December 22, 2017

Persistent Sore Throat Leads to Life-Saving Care

By SharingMayoClinic

When George Campbell was told his nagging sore throat was actually cancer, he could have stayed near home for treatment. Instead, he chose to pack up and drive 1,000 miles to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus based on a friend's positive experience there.

When George Campbell was told his nagging sore throat was actually cancer, he could have stayed near home for treatment. Instead, he chose to pack up and drive 1,000 miles to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus based on a friend's positive experience there.


George Campbell thought he just had a sore throat. But when the pain and irritation persisted for several months, his primary care physician in Atlanta decided it was time to refer him to a specialist.

"We eventually figured out it was something more serious than a sore throat," George says. Something much more serious, in fact, as test results revealed that George had throat cancer.

George could have stayed close to home for treatment, but he decided on something different. A friend had recently gone to Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus after being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. Based on that experience, George knew Mayo Clinic was where he wanted to go, too.

George put in a call to Mayo Clinic's appointment line. "They basically said, 'How soon can you get here?'" George recalls. "And I said, 'Wednesday.'"

Making connections

It would take a few days for George and his fiancée to get to Rochester, Minnesota, from Atlanta. They wanted to drive rather than fly to make sure they could bring everything they needed to stay as long as necessary.

"I went in to work on Monday morning to resign from my job, and then we literally packed our car with summer, fall, and winter clothing, got on the road, and started driving 1,000 miles to Rochester," George says.

Before they left, George made one more phone call to an old family friend. "His son is a heart surgeon at Mayo Clinic. I called to see if I could get his cellphone number."


"It was really nice to have someone already at Mayo Clinic who I could reach out to for help." — George Campbell


That heart surgeon, John Stulak, M.D., was more than happy to take George's call.

"I'd never met John before, but I'd met some of his siblings," George says. "I reached out to him after I got my diagnosis and asked him if he could maybe help me navigate my way around campus."

When George and his fiancée arrived, Dr. Stulak was waiting.

"We met with him before I even started treatment," George says. "He came over to our hotel, and we spent an hour just talking. It was really nice to have someone already at Mayo Clinic who I could reach out to for help."

Devising a plan

George went through three days of testing to confirm his diagnosis and determine the best treatment plan.

"I had a meeting with my team of doctors, and we decided to do surgery the next day, take 30 days off to recover, and then start two weeks of chemotherapy and radiation treatments," George says.

Kathryn Van Abel, M.D., a surgeon in Otorhinolaryngology, led George's surgical procedure.

"She's great," George says of Dr. Van Abel. "Because of the difficulty of operating on my tonsil, she had to a use a robot, and everything went great."


"I was very pleased with the way Mayo Clinic handled the setting up of all of my appointments, so that we could be in a position to make a decision as to which way we wanted to go with treatment, and then get going on that treatment right away." — George Campbell


The procedure Dr. Van Abel performed to remove the cancer from George's right lymph node also went smoothly. After the 4 1/2-hour surgery, George woke up in a room at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Saint Marys Campus. That's when his recovery began.

"My care team told me that I needed to start walking right away, so I started walking up and down the halls of Saint Marys," he says. "And I kept walking every day, even at night. If I ever woke up during the night and couldn't get back to sleep, I'd get up and do more walking."

All that walking paid off. After three days, George's care team told him he didn't have to be hospitalized any longer.

"I had surgery on a Tuesday morning and by Friday, they told me it was time for me to leave the hospital," he says.

Leaving cancer behind

George and his fiancée packed up their car and headed out. Instead of driving back to Atlanta, they took a detour to Philadelphia.

"I happened to have a grandson born while I was in the hospital," George says. "Since I had to take 30 days off after my surgery, we decided to drive to Philly to go and see him."

A month later, George was back in Rochester to begin two weeks of chemotherapy and radiation therapy to wipe out any remaining traces of cancer the surgery may have missed. Though his throat remains "a bit sore" from those treatments, George says he's happy to have it all behind him. And he's thankful to those who made it happen.

"We had phenomenal service from the first phone call," George says. "I was very pleased with the way Mayo Clinic handled the setting up of all of my appointments, so that we could be in a position to make a decision as to which way we wanted to go with treatment, and then get going on that treatment right away."


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Tags: Dr. John Stulak, Dr. Kathryn Van Abel, ENT/Audiology, otorhinolaryngology, throat cancer

My husband ,Joseph and I live in Charlotte NC. A few years ago we went through the exact same thing, same diagnosis. He was one of the first 50 patients that they used the robot on. That was 2009. Today he is fine, 8.5 years later! Mayo Rochester is the best!

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