When John Kuby, a 68-year-old Comox snowboarder and mountain biker, was diagnosed with tongue cancer three years ago, he had no idea his body had been carrying a viral infection. One that he got from a sexual partner, probably in his 20s.
The cancer-causing human papilloma virus (HPV) is transmitted sexually.
It is relatively well-known that HPV causes cervical cancer in women. That is why girls are vaccinated in Grade 6. What is not well known is that men also have the HPV virus in them. If it manifests as cancer, it is most often oropharyngeal (tongue or throat) cancer, usually in men Kuby’s age.
Now that the medical community is aware of the connection of HPV to tongue cancer, boys are also being vaccinated in Grade 6, before they become sexually active.
Most people contract HPV viruses during sex, but in most cases, the body’s natural defences take care of any infections within a year or two without any symptoms. But some of the infections lie dormant and manifest as cancers years later.
For young people, the HPV vaccination is effective up to age 26.
For older people, there is a mini-epidemic of tongue and throat cancers in men of the baby boomer generation.
As Kuby shows in his cancer experience book — No Quit in Me: My wild ride with tongue cancer — this is an ugly, ugly cancer.
In the year he spent recovering from cancer and radiation/chemotherapy treatment, Kuby endured a steady barrage of challenges: throat pains, burning inside and outside his throat, mouth sores, thrush, swallowing problem, random burning sensations, constipation, vomiting, choking, facial disfiguration, turkey neck, mucus management issues, dry mouth, sleep deprivation and fear. For a month he was not able to speak, and for five months was fed through a tube. He was exhausted, weak and gaunt. He survived it all, only to be left with memory loss, brain fog and depression.
No one wants to go through all that. But, Kuby’s sense of humour, openness to experience and appreciation for all the help from his caregivers makes the story of getting back to snowboarding and mountain biking an inspirational adventure.
Laughing Oyster Bookshop is hosting the launch of Kuby’s book at the Courtenay library, from 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesday, May 21. He will read, talk about his adventures with tongue cancer, and sign books.
Visit the book’s website at www.noquitinme.ca