MEET LAYTON FOSSUM. Two years ago the Northfield man suffered from a raspy throat, a hearing loss and then a twitch in his face.
Must be a virus, the doctors initially told him. But the then 45-year-old persisted and eventually was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer with a name he struggles to pronounce. So he simply says “head and neck cancer.”
After a 10 ½-hour surgery that was supposed to take three, he emerged with 40 fewer lymph nodes, but thankful to be alive. Next he would explore his post-operative treatment options, traveling to Houston, Seattle, Illinois and California before finally settling on radiation at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Zion, Illinois.
Through-out his journey, this Malt-O-Meal employee who missed six months of work due to his cancer and is happier than ever now to go to work, has remained positive. Even today he can joke about his experience. “I told my wife I’m worth more. I have gold in me,” Layton tells me Friday night at the Rice County Fairgrounds in Faribault during the American Cancer Society Straight River Stroll.
Layton points to his right eye and the lump of gold in his eyelid. Because he no longer has facial nerves on the right side, he needs the weight to help close the lid, which will shut only when he closes the opposite lid.
Then Layton shows me his ear, which, too, was reshaped during reconstructive surgery to tighten his drooping face.
Yet, despite all he has undergone, despite the changes in his appearance, Layton remains upbeat and eager to tell his story. He was invited back to Zion and spoke for 1 ½ hours to a roomful of suit-and-ties, he says.
Before his diagnosis two years ago, Layton was the picture of health, the last one you would expect to get cancer, a friend says.
He heard the same from doctors: “It could be cancer, but you’re too healthy.”
Still, he did have cancer. And Friday evening Layton was among those celebrating their cancer-free lives at the Straight River Stroll, a Relay for Life event to fund cancer research. As I walked beside him, switching from his right to left side so he could hear me, I marveled at this man who stopped often, bent low to read the names written on white paper bags in memory of, praying for and rejoicing with those who, like him, endured cancer.
Some lost the battle. Some won. Some are still fighting.
(This post is written in memory of my dad, who died of esophageal cancer in 2003; my nephew, Justin, who died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2001; and my mom, who is a breast cancer survivor.)
© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling