Matthew’s Story

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Most of all I wanted to know if my dad was going to die.

It was a little more than a year ago. It was January and I was at my house with my parents just like any other day. But this day was different. My parents wanted to talk to me.  They made me sit down on the couch so I knew it was something serious. They told me dad had HPV throat cancer. I’d never heard anything about throat cancer before and I didn’t know what HPV was.  I had a lot of questions and I was really scared. I wanted to know what kind of treatment my dad needed. How long would it take? Would dad be okay?  Most of all, I wanted to know if my dad was going to die.

 Life while dad was sick

My dad’s life changed a lot. He had so many surgeries. There was one to take out a mass the doctors found in his neck, which turned out to be cancer.  Then they took out his tonsils because they were looking for where the cancer was coming from. Then he had another one to insert a feeding tube in his stomach. He had four different operations to widen his throat. He also needed both “chemo” (chemotherapy) and radiation treatments to fight his cancer.

Because of his cancer and treatments, my dad lost around 30 pounds. And he always looked pale white like he was really sick. The treatments to his throat made it so he couldn’t swallow so he couldn’t eat the normal way anymore. And the treatments made him lose his voice too. He also had to have a sucking tube down his throat that was always sucking up gunky mucus. He needed that because he couldn’t swallow, and he would choke. It was a lot of stuff. 

 

My life changed too. Before getting sick, my dad and I would play golf together and hang out and talk. Our family used to eat together. None of that happened when dad was sick. 

He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t eat with me and mom. He had to take his liquid food in the bedroom through the feeding tube. And forget about golf or going out. I started feeling more scared and anxious while he was sick. In all, it took most of a year before dad started feeling better and mom and I could relax again.

 

 

 Getting vaccinated

One day while dad was still getting his treatments, I was going for a doctor appointment to get a shot, my last HPV shot, and I suddenly realized: Hey this is the HPV vaccine! Before my dad got sick I never paid any attention to what shots I was getting. But now, I connected my shot to my dad’s experience. I mean, the HPV vaccine prevents HPV cancers—like my dad has. So when I rolled up my sleeve I was thinking. I’d rather get a hundred HPV shots so I don’t have to go through what my dad is going through.  

 Matthew’s message

There’s really no down side to getting the HPV vaccine. Now that I’ve seen what HPV cancer was like for my dad, getting the vaccine is just logical. I think I’d like to be someone who speaks in public about getting vaccinated because everyone should know that it’s important to prevent any kind of HPV cancer. I hope my story will help other kids and their parents.

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Stories put a face on vaccine-preventable diseases. Our collection of videos and written stories is an education and awareness resource for your patients, colleagues, students, clients, and community.

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I used a video to emphasize the importance of vaccinating in a...

Nicole Freeto
Washington State Department of Health Olympia, WA