Hoag is Well Worth the Trip
A sinus infection that wouldn’t wane was the first sign something was wrong. Irvine resident Gregg Slater decided he needed to get checked.
“Normally I would’ve just blown this off and tried to deal
with it, but I was feeling my neck and felt one of my glands swollen,”
the 51-year-old musician said. “I realized it was probably a worse
infection than I thought.”
In February 2015, Slater learned what he was experiencing wasn’t
an infection at all, but tonsil cancer that had spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Doctors learned Slater’s cancer was caused by a strain of the human
papilloma virus — which physicians say is the culprit for a sharp
rise in head and neck cancers in recent years.
The good news for patients like Slater is this type of cancer is highly
treatable and very responsive to chemotherapy and radiation.
“Times have changed with cancer treatment,” he said. “If
it’s caught early, it’s something that can be beat. Before
treatment even started, my doctors were very confident and very positive
this would be successful.”
At the time Slater was diagnosed, he lived in Santa Barbara, but he frequently
visited Orange County because he was dating his now-wife, Kristy.
Normally he wouldn’t date a woman who lived so far, he said, but
the two had so much in common and an undeniable spark, which may have
helped save his life.
Slater researched where he should get care in the Santa Barbara and Orange
County areas since he had the option to live with Kristy in Irvine while
His brother, who lives in Arizona, told Slater he would help with researching
“My brother works in the medical field and he works with a lot of
top cancer doctors,” Slater said. “He asked all of them, ‘Where
would you go? Where’s the best place?’ Every single one of
them said Hoag in Newport.”
It was decided.
To get the best, Slater would have to move to Irvine with his girlfriend
and put his trust in the medical team at Hoag Family Cancer Institute,
specifically, the Hoag Head & Neck Cancer Program.
Part of Slater’s right tonsil was removed and he underwent eight
weeks of radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy.
Hoag’s multidisciplinary approach to head and neck cancer meant Slater
had a comprehensive team of experts caring for him, including an oncologist,
radiation oncologist, radiation therapist, oncology dietitian, clinical
nurse navigator, and speech pathologist.
Slater’s medical team, which included oncologist Dr. Minh Nguyen
and radiation oncologist Dr. Craig Cox, were not only expert in delivering
care, but patient and kind, he said.
“They were very good at making me feel like I was being taken care
of and I was not just a number being passed through the system,”
he said. “Every single person I dealt with was incredibly caring.”
Treatment was difficult, but Slater said he fought through it by staying
busy and surrounding himself with support.
“I never missed a day of work and that pushed me to keep myself feeling
as good as possible,” he said. “Being here with my wife really
helped and we also have two really cool cats. I think animals have a great
way of making you feel better.”
Slater continues to check in with his medical team at Hoag to ensure he
is staying cancer free, but his life has again returned to days spent
cooking with his wife, attending concerts and planning their honeymoon
“It was not an easy treatment but what I went through was a small
price to be well,” he said.
“My life is totally back to normal. I’m really thankful.”