Dr. Lee and Patient

Race Against Cancer

(Pictured Above) After an unexpected cancer diagnosis, Doug Yost (middle) , relied on his wit and active lifestyle to remain positive during cancer treatment. His wife Lisa (right) and oncologist Dr. David Lee (left) were his incredible support system through it all. 

Last summer, Doug Yost of Overland Park was the picture of health. A 56-year-old triathlete, Doug worked out six days a week, ate a healthy diet and never smoked or used tobacco. The last thing on his mind was cancer.

A few months earlier, Doug felt a soft lump on the left side of his neck. It didn't hurt and he wasn't feeling sick, so he ignored it. But while shaving one day he noticed the lump had grown, so he headed in to see Alisa Cahill, MD, his primary care physician at Olathe Family Medicine - Antioch. Dr. Cahill examined Doug and referred him to Bruce Zimmerman, MD, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Olathe Medical Center (OMC).

Dr. Zimmerman performed a biopsy on the lump, and a few days later called Doug with the news: the lump was cancerous.

"After getting over the initial shock, my first question to Dr. Zimmerman was whether I could run the half marathon I was planning to race the next day in Portland, Oregon," Doug said. "He laughed and told me that it wouldn't hurt anything, so that's what I did!"

When he returned home, a comprehensive cancer team at OMC developed Doug's cancer treatment plan. The team centered around Doug, and included Dr. Zimmerman, oncologist David Lee, MD, and radiation oncologist Stephen Smalley, MD.

"Doug was diagnosed with stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, located at the base of his tongue in the back of his throat," said Dr. Lee. "The tumor wasn't causing any symptoms or discomfort-if it hadn't affected the lymph node, he wouldn't have noticed it at all."

Dr. Zimmerman removed Doug's tonsils surgically and conducted additional biopsies. A few weeks later, Doug started seven weeks of daily radiation treatments and chemotherapy.

"The combination of high doses of radiation and chemotherapy is aggressive, but studies show that this type of cancer responds pretty well to the treatment and gives the patient the best chance at survival," Dr. Lee said.

Doug made it a priority to keep working and continue his workouts throughout cancer treatment.

"There were days when it was hard to eat, hard to walk, let alone run, and impossible to drive," Doug said. "But my wife, Lisa, was incredible. She fixed me smoothies and nutrition shakes when I couldn't eat food, drove me to my workouts, and most importantly provided me with positive support and comfort. I'm very, very lucky to have her."

Doug's sense of humor also helped him through the toughest days of cancer treatment. One time, Doug stuck dozens of tiny round stickers to his chest, surrounding a similar, permanent tattoo that was used to ensure his radiation treatments were done precisely every time. When Doug removed his shirt for his radiation that morning, his tech laughed and said, "Really, Doug?"

“Every single person on the cancer team has a passion for what they do. Yes, it’s their job, but they’re amazing at it,” Doug said.

"The patient is a part of the decision-making, and everyone made sure they answered every question, talked about all my options and guided me through my cancer fighting plan," Doug said.

One of the things that makes cancer care unique at Olathe Health is its close collaboration of cross-disciplinary expertise.

"At every stage from diagnostics through treatment and ultimately follow-up, your progress is guided by our close community of doctors," Dr. Lee said. "We meet often and have great communication, which helps us formulate the best plan for each patient and make adjustments quickly."

Weeks of cancer treatment and several months of recovery took a toll on Doug, who lost 30 pounds and much of his stamina. But he continued to exercise regularly, and competed in his first half marathon post-treatment in May of this year. Although Doug's latest PET scans show no evidence of the disease, it will be at least four more years before he'll be considered cancer-free. But Doug isn't letting it get him down.

"Sometimes you just get cancer," Doug said. "Life's not fair, bad things happen, but you can't dwell on the negativity. You deal with it, and move on."

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