BILLINGS- With rates of head and neck cancer on the rise, a Billings woman is opening up about her struggles with her own diagnosis and treatment.
Sheri Romo is in her late 40s and discovered a lump on her throat in September 2018.
“The CT scan revealed a mass on my right tonsil as well as an abnormal level in my lymph nodes,” said Romo. “So then I had a biopsy, which came back as HPV-positive squamous cell carcinoma.”
It was cancer, a diagnosis Romo didn’t see coming.
“It was scary,” she said. “Because you don’t know what is going to happen. You don’t want to go through what people go through because it’s really, really hard.”
Romo had a tough decision to make regarding her treatment and opted to have her tonsils removed and undergo chemotherapy and radiation in mid-December 2018.
As the life of this busy mom and wife changed, and as she fought through radiation and chemotherapy, she struggled with her appetite.
It’s a side effect St. Vincent Healthcare registered dietitian Greta Hensler said is often found in patients with cancer of the head and neck.
“It’s vital to try and maintain your nutrition and your hydration,” said Hensler.
Hensler specializes in oncology nutrition and says patients like Sheri are some of the most vulnerable to side effects.
“Swallowing, chewing, your appetite,” she said. “You’re not going to want to eat when you don’t feel good and when it’s hard to eat.”
Romo says she lost weight and now there are certain foods she just can’t seem to enjoy, so the two meet and talk nutrition to ensure Romo gets the diets she wants but also needs during recovery.
“Patients will have side effects for several months sometimes even up to a year,” said Hensler. “Side effects like dry mouth, taste changes, those are going to go away slowly, but yeah it does take some time.”
Those at St. Vincent Healthcare are seeing an increase in this type of cancer. While a history of smoking typically contributes to these cancers, Romo’s cancer came from the HPV virus, also known as the Human Papilloma Virus.
On top of testing, she encourages others to get vaccinated for the virus, which is usually done in the late teens and early 20s.
Romo just wrapped up radiation about a month ago and says she is feeling well.
St Vincent Healthcare is offering a free oral, head and neck cancer screening on April 10 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m at the Yellowstone Medical Building at 2900 12th Ave. N., Suite 330W.