Cancer Treated, Lifelong Connections Formed

Female hands holding elderly male hands, care concept.

Some say the people you meet on a journey are more important than the journey itself. Isaac Shainblum wholeheartedly agrees.

In early 2021, Isaac, age 71, began having difficulty chewing and had bothersome nasal issues, but figured he simply needed some dental work.

Within a few months, though, he was struggling to breathe and felt a lump under his chin. At a friend's suggestion, Isaac made an appointment with Dr. Perry Mansfield, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. Dr. Mansfield found a cancerous tumor under Isaac's tongue that was blocking his windpipe to breathe.

"With news as overwhelming as this, Dr. Mansfield immediately helped me feel at ease and connected me to a team of experts at Sharp," says Isaac.

One expert included Angelea Bruce, an oncology patient navigator and dietitian. Angelea helped Isaac transition to using a feeding tube, which he would need after surgery and during chemotherapy and radiation.

"This can be an incredibly difficult part of the cancer experience for patients who need temporary feeding tubes," says Angelea. "From the beginning, Isaac maintained a wonderfully positive attitude."

A cancer diagnosis confirmed

Very soon after, Dr. Mansfield performed surgery to open Isaac's breathing passage and diagnose his tumor. The procedure confirmed a diagnosis of oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma, a type of throat cancer associated with Isaac's past HPV (human papillomavirus virus) infection. While HPV infection is the most common cause of oropharyngeal cancer, a history of radiation treatments and other risk factors can lead to the same diagnosis.

"Mr. Shainblum's tumor was large, and the cancer had spread to the local tissue," says Dr. Mansfield. "Treating this type of cancer requires a skilled team approach, with experts in surgery, medical oncology, radiation therapy and rehabilitative fields."

Isaac stayed in the hospital for a week to recover from surgery. Because the tumor had affected his airway, Isaac had to adjust to using a tracheostomy tube – a device that is surgically inserted through the neck and windpipe – to help with his breathing. He used the device for about five months.

His treatment journey continues

After leaving the hospital, Isaac met with speech therapists from the Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center to learn exercises that helped strengthen and open his jaw. He also received radiation treatment and chemotherapy for several weeks.

"Our team encouraged Mr. Shainblum throughout the recovery process, as he was motivated to get better," says Dr. Siavash Jabbari, a radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group and Sharp Memorial. "It was an honor to support him and his wife Carol, who was by his side."

Isaac went through chemotherapy under the guidance of Dr. Steven Kossman, a medical oncologist affiliated with Sharp Community Medical Group and Sharp Memorial. During that time, Isaac's son Michael temporarily relocated to San Diego to support his father.

A dedication to the ones who care

Little by little, Isaac progressed with his recovery. A former talent at a radio station in his hometown of Quebec, Isaac briefly went back on air to dedicate a special Christmas radio show to his Sharp care team.

"I played song requests from Dr. Mansfield, such as 'The Chanukah Song' by Adam Sandler, and 'Silver Bells' for Angelea," he says. "It was an emotional show because I wanted them to know that their positivity meant so much to me."

Isaac is gradually adding soft, solid foods back into his diet and using his feeding tube less. He continues his speech therapy and sees his doctors for follow-up appointments.

"Mr. Shainblum appears to have had a very successful initial treatment course with no evidence of cancer," says Dr. Mansfield. "He is doing extremely well, thanks to his determination and our great team. We will monitor his condition carefully for many years, and our team is very happy to have been able to help him. He is a marvelous patient."

Additionally, Isaac joined Sharp's Head and Neck Cancer Support Group, where he has received moral support from fellow patients. He is also participating in Sharp's Head and Neck Cancer Survivorship Clinic, designed to help patients successfully transition out of treatment.

"I wish I never got cancer, but I'm so thankful for the people I've met through this journey," says Isaac. "I've developed lasting relationships with Sharp's staff members, who I call my family."

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