As John Foster prepares for a summer of travel and merriment, he and his wife, Rebecca, are happy they have made health a priority.

Eleven years ago, Foster felt a lump in his neck while shaving. He said at first he thought little about it, assuming it may have just been a reaction to a mosquito bite.

“But it never went away,” Foster said. “When Rebecca felt it, she immediately said ‘We need to go to the doctor.’”

Rebecca Foster worked for 44 years as a registered nurse. She spent 24 of those years working at UAMS, 12 of those in oncology.

“As an oncology nurse, I knew how many people had successful outcomes from their cancer diagnosis,” Rebecca Foster said. “This gave me confidence and peace that Dr. [Brendan]Stack and UAMS would provide state-of-the-art medicine and that John would be telling of his successful outcome one day. For that, I am forever thankful.”

John Foster was diagnosed with stage 3 oropharyngeal cancer. The oropharynx includes the back wall of the throat, tonsils and the back of the tongue. He was treated by the UAMS team of medical and radiation oncologists, and his care was led by head and neck surgeon Brendan Stack Jr., M.D., who sees patients in the Head and Neck Oncology Clinic at UAMS.

“It was scary,” Foster said. “But I felt like I was in good hands. Dr. Stack is one of the best in the world at what he does.”

Foster was ultimately treated with chemotherapy and radiation.

“Mr. Foster represents a typical head and neck cancer patient in that he was diagnosed, treated and came for follow-ups for five years.”

After being disease-free for five years, Stack says patients “graduate” from routine follow-up appointments from the Head and Neck Oncology clinic. Foster continued to receive checkups from his primary care physician.

In September 2017, a lump in Foster’s left jaw prompted him to make an appointment with his primary care doctor at UAMS, Robert Lavender, M.D. Lavender referred him back to Stack who ordered a biopsy that confirmed there was a malignant mass in his largest salivary gland known as the parotid gland. Stack performed a parotidectomy in November and was able to remove all traces of cancer.

“I think the moral of Mr. Foster’s story is this,” Stack said. “You need to engage with your health care providers. Follow up as long as you are directed. And after routine follow-up is concluded, always be on the lookout for new and unexplained symptoms in the area of your previous cancer. In this case, I think we were able to treat him very quickly because of his diligence and compliance.”