A diagnosis of an aggressive cancer can be devastating news. Jay Masters understands that firsthand. A rare throat cancer threatened his life, and treatment meant risking his voice ⏤ the hallmark of his career. But a Mayo Clinic team that included oncologists, surgeons, radiologists, radiation therapists, nurses and many others helped Jay get his voice back after cancer.
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To Jay, a strong voice is a gift, a hobby and vocation. But a diagnosis of an aggressive throat cancer changed everything. His doctor broke the news.
"He looked me in the eye and he said, 'What you have is stage 4 cancer.' And my heart felt like it literally dropped out of my chest cavity," says Jay.
"Jay came to us with a tumor of his throat. That's a little bit unusual in a person of his age and health, but he had what's called a hypopharyngeal cancer," says Dr. Eric Moore, a Mayo Clinic otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon. He removed the tumor from deep in Jay's throat.
"Is this going to affect my voice?" asked Jay.
Something did weaken his voice.
"I do voice-over work professionally. I do emcee work and have for 30 years. And my voice is very important to me. And he said, 'No, the surgery will not affect your voice,' and he was right. The surgery did not," says Jay.
But because Jay's cancer was aggressive, he also endured four infusions of chemotherapy and radiation. Jay received 30 radiation treatments to target the tumor. Five days a week for six weeks. But afterward, scar tissue, which is a possible side effect of radiation, formed. His voice faded.
"It was very difficult for me because my voice was … a part of my personality," says Jay.
But Jay was still alive. He had beaten a serious cancer and was very grateful. Jay transformed a tough situation into a gift of compassion for others.
"I remember how scary it was to think, you know, I've got cancer. I've got stage 4 cancer. I might die. I might not be here to see my next birthday … I wanted to be able to help people get through that and see that even though they have a difficult diagnosis, it doesn't necessarily mean that their life is over," says Jay.
Jay now works for Mayo Clinic, where he enjoys talking to patients to help them cope.
"From the very first day that I met him, he was … uplifting us," says Dr. Moore.
Jay's story doesn't end there. After adjusting to life with a weakened voice, Jay met Dr. Semirra Bayan, a Mayo Clinic otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon.
"He had a small scar band that involved the front part of his vocal cords. It was fusing them together, and, so, I removed, or cut, that scar band and allowed the vocal cords to open back up again," says Dr. Bayan.
Results of the procedure vary from patient to patient, but Jay's voice is once again strong.
"I am so grateful for this gift: for my life and my voice. And I will pay it forward to help others realize there is great hope," says Jay.