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Marty's Journey: UPMC's Head & Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic (Full Video)

The day started with a lot of questions. I knew before going into the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic that I would be seeing a lot of doctors and professionals but I had no idea...

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Posted by Marty Griffin - Sparkt
February 22, 2019

The day started with a lot of questions. I knew before going into the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic that I would be seeing a lot of doctors and professionals, but I had no idea it would be so quick and efficient. My appointment time was 8:40am and I was literally out the door by 10:40am. Check out the video that takes you through my 2 hour visit in less than 5 minutes.

(See the notes following the video for a deeper breakdown)



First off, what is the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic? It's a one-stop shop, so to speak, where people who've battled cancer can get the support they need in one place and by paying only one co-pay. If you were to see all of these different specialists individually you would normally be paying a co-pay for each one.


Here's how my visit played out:

  • Audiology: They checked my hearing before doing anything else to make sure I would be able to hear the rest of the specialists during my visit. Testing discovered I do have some minor hearing loss in the high frequency range which could be related to my treatment or 30+ years in TV and radio. If I needed a full hearing test, they were ready to do that too during my visit. Below you see Audiologist Lori Zitelli administering my hearing test.
  • Overview: Next up was my visit with Marci Lee Nilsen. Not only is she a brilliant nurse, but she's a doctor too (PhD). She's one of the driving forces behind the clinic and broke down the process for me, told me what to expect, and why they created the process. The main goal is to assess the patient's overall health and individual recovery needs, and make recommendations for ongoing recovery to get back to a more normal life. In the picture below she's measuring my mouth, which used to open wider before radiation.

  • Swallowing Therapy: To address and assess my swallowing difficulties the next team up tackles swallowing therapy. It's been one of the most difficult things for me since treatment and I'm not alone. The radiation does a number on your taste buds not to mention all of the muscles and tissue involved in swallowing.


  • Physical Therapy: To help with the tightness in my throat and stretching things back out, I spent some time with the physical therapist. I was able to pick up a few exercises that will help and she recommended I visit someone near my home for a few visits to learn more techniques I can do at home.


  • Dental: The final piece of my whole health picture focused on my pearly whites. Dr. Kurt Summersgill is a dentist from the University of Pittsburgh Dental School. He took a look at my teeth to see how they've held up so far with treatment. Your mouth goes through a big change through treatment, becoming more acidic. It can damage tooth enamel. That's why the doc recommended fluoride treatments and sent me home with a prescription toothpaste.

Oh and there's also this swanky swag bag they send you home with. It's a nice parting gift to carry all of the handouts filled with helpful information on continuing your recovery. It also includes a summary of your visit, your treatment plan, and ways to reach their team if you ever need them. I can't say enough, how amazing these folks are and I look forward to seeing them next year when I'm back for my follow up at the clinic.


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