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Beat Goes on for Musician Who Survived Stage IV Throat Cancer

Thursday, May 23, 2019 4:13 PM

Randy Gladstone has led a real rock ‘n roll life. A drummer in the local band “Tetra” back in the '70s, he performed in venues big and small across Chicagoland. Even now, at age 62, jam sessions continue to be an important part of his life.

Randy Gladstone

Nagging Pain
A couple of years ago, however, music took a back seat to Gladstone’s health. It started with a simple sore throat that would not go away. Initially, the Mundelein resident thought it would pass. But after more than a year of near-constant throat pain, he finally sought help at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center. The diagnosis was grim: Stage IV throat cancer.

“I felt it was over for me. I thought I was going to die,” recalled Gladstone.

But the fight had only just begun for his multidisciplinary care team. Over the course of nearly two years, Gladstone underwent radiation, chemotherapy and the surgical removal of his voice box and upper trachea where cancer had spread.

“Randy’s prognosis was very poor as his cancer was so extensive,” explained Medical Oncologist Nick Campbell, MD, “but through it all, he never lost his positive attitude.”

Dr. Campbell and affiliated Radiologist Vathsala Raghavan, MD, developed a customized treatment plan to attack Gladstone’s aggressive disease. Head and Neck Cancer Surgeon Mihir Bhayani, MD, performed the laryngectomy. Both Dr. Campbell and Dr. Bhayani hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

“Throughout the treatment, my hair was falling out, but I didn’t care,” Gladstone acknowledged. “I had a lifetime of hair below my shoulders, anyway.”

Vocal Resurrection
The one-two punch of Gladstone’s cancer treatment plan proved to be life-saving. But his NorthShore team did something else that the drummer called even more remarkable. They saved his voice.

In an intricate eight hour surgery, Dr. Bhayani and NorthShore Plastic Surgeon, Mark Sisco, MD, reconstructed Gladstone’s esophagus and pharynx using tissue from his shoulder and chest. As part of the procedure, Dr. Bhayani also inserted an artificial larynx—a plastic device that connects the trachea and the esophagus with a valve. It allows Gladstone to use chest pressure to force air into his upper throat where it vibrates against the palate and tongue to create sound.

After months of physician-ordered silence, it was finally time for Gladstone to try and speak. He is still amazed at that moment. “Dr. Bhayani told me to say my name, and I said ‘Randy’,” he remembered. “I was shocked and amazed. It felt like my vocal cords were still there. I could talk!”

Strike Up the Band
“Randy has done very well,” noted Dr. Campbell, who declared Gladstone cancer-free last summer. “His excellent prognosis is a combination of our coordinated, multidisciplinary approach, his positive attitude and some good luck.”

Dr. Bhayani agreed. “There are a lot of challenges with recovery, but Randy was exceedingly motivated to regain his independence,” he said. “I share Randy’s story to help other patients. I tell them ‘this guy is going strong, and if you are motivated and work hard, you will, too.’”

Today, Gladstone continues to play in a band, and admits the serious health scare changed his outlook on life. “When you’ve survived Stage IV cancer you don’t worry about the little things. I feel like a whole different person.”

He also still marvels at the round-the-clock attention he received at NorthShore. “I felt like I was the only patient they had,” he said, “and it was care that came from their hearts.”