‘Voice of Hope’ Roy Nagle speaks at Relay For Life kick-off meeting

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American Cancer Society’s 2020 ‘Voice of Hope’ Roy Nagle is seen at Cullman County Relay For Life’s 2020 kick-off meeting Thursday evening. (Maggie Darnell for The Cullman Tribune)

CULLMAN, Ala. – Relay For Life of Cullman County had its 2020 kick-off meeting Thursday. welcoming participants and guests to First Baptist Church in Cullman.

Publicity Chair Gail Crutchfield shared, “We always have our kick-off meeting in January to kick off our fundraising for Relay For Life of Cullman County. This year’s event will be Friday, May 1 at the Cullman County Fairgrounds- it’s always the first Friday of the month; it starts off at 6 p.m. and will end at midnight. Tonight was about encouraging the team members to begin their fundraising efforts and to show them why we relay.”

This year’s theme is “Heroes of Hope.”

The meeting featured guest speaker, American Cancer Society’s 2020 ‘Voice of Hope’ Roy Nagle of Phil Campbell, a throat cancer survivor of three years.

“I worked for a railroad for several years and in 2016, I was literally starting to count down the days to retirement,” said Campbell. “I was looking at about two and a half years, I was 57 years old, as soon as I turned 60, I would be able to leave. About February of 2016, I got to waking up and noticed that my throat was sore, I thought ‘Well, I guess I’m coming down with the cold or have some sinus issues.’ This went on for a couple weeks and I noticed it was on one side. Then my ears started hurting really bad; it felt like someone was taking a knitting needle and just going down in my ear with it, and I started seeing a nurse practitioner and everything pointed to sinuses! You could press on my cheeks, they were sore; sometimes I had what might looked like raccoon eyes and I might have had sinuses and cancer going on at the same time, who knows.”

He continued, “Then one night, I was massaging my throat because it was sore and I detected a knot right there (on the right side of his throat) and I went back to the nurse practitioner and said, ‘Check this out.’ She said, ‘Oh that’s just an enlarged lymph node.’ Then, my headaches started getting weird. I felt like my scalp was crawling on the right side, my temple would hurt. I went to another practitioner and the first words out of their mouth were, ‘We need to get you to go see Dr. Bill Carroll out at UAB.’

“I just had a feeling this was more than sinuses,” he continued. “By then, this was June. Around the 1st of June I got a biopsy and on the 6th of June I called the doctor’s office and went, ‘Do you have a report?’ And they told me, ‘Yes, we’re afraid it’s malignant.’ And my first doctor doubted that it was any kind of malignancy because I didn’t smoke, dip, chew or drink. Any vice that went in your mouth other than eating too good, I never had participated in.”

He continued, “I really stress as most of us get older, and most of you survivors can confirm this, I’ve been in my body for 57 years, all of sudden it started feeling different. It felt a way that I’ve never felt before, especially these earaches. But that crawling sensation on my scalp, that what really had me concerned. Eventually I began treatment. Traditionally, throat cancer is treated with 35 radiation treatments. They told me, ‘Since you’re a non-tobacco user we want to do something a little different with you, we want to try chemo-radiation. We’re doing a study; we’re giving some people straight radiation, but in your case, we think you’d be a good candidate for the chemo-radiation.’ So, they gave me 30 treatments as opposed to the normal 35; they gave me six chemo treatments that went on for six consecutive weeks. I started July 29 and I’m an impatient person. When all of this started in June but I didn’t get in and begin treatment until July 29, I’d call asking about appointments, ‘Well you’re going to Dr. Lyle Nabell who is going to be your medical oncologist, she’s going to be on vacation for two weeks,’ and I’d go, ‘Ma’am, my cancer’s not on vacation.’ This was all new to me and I was terrified.”

He continued, “After they explained to me what they were doing and that they designed a treatment plan for me, I kind of settled down. I went for my first visit and they said, ‘We’re going to this, this and this, this will be the results.’ Initially my ear, nose and throat doctor, Dr. (Benjamin) Greene told me, ‘You have an 80% prognosis.’ When I went to see the radiation oncologist, they proudly announced that since I didn’t have a tobacco history, that brought it up to 90%, which made me feel much better. I was still skeptical, and after two and a half weeks, when I went to massage my throat, I noticed the knot was barely detectable. At that point I said, ‘Well, this stuff looks promising now.’”

Nagle shared, “But I went down there with just this awful attitude. I was all, ‘I’m getting ready to retire, I don’t have time for this, this doesn’t fit in my life.’ My first day in chemo, they brought a young gentleman in that got put next to me. He got to talking about where he works and being flown in from the plane and how he’d previously be on a plane from when he skydived. And then he mentioned a lady that worked in a nearby office that was affiliated with his work that had skydived and I thought, ‘I know who he’s talking about.’ So, we struck up a conversation. He told me, ‘Today is my 37th birthday. Today is going to be my last birthday.’ He had lung cancer and it had gotten all down in his chest and they were more or less giving him chemo just to make life better. And he said, ‘Me and you are going to beat this anyway!’ I left there that day. He also told me, ‘I’m home right now from work because I’m too sick to work, my kids are out of school, so every day I’m blessed. I’m getting to play with my children every day.’ That hit home to me. He really made an impression on me. I know when I went home my wife told me, ‘You’re not the first man to get throat cancer and you won’t be the last; we’re going to deal with this.’ But after that young man talked to me, I left there with a different attitude. He passed three days before my treatments were over and it made a long weekend getting that news when I was packing and getting ready to go home the following week.”

He shared his experience of staying in Relay For Life’s Hope Lodge.

“The support by other people you meet… I met a gentleman that I befriended, come to find out he only lived 10 miles away from me, so he and his wife became good friends of mine. I have another friend that I met from Montgomery; he is also an amateur radio operator like me- we got to hang out and talk about our hobby while we were at Hope Lodge and we’ve stayed in touch since then.”

He continued, “I’ve been a survivor for three years. I received my first negative PET scan in December 2016, and every time I return, every throat scope, every PET, they’re still showing negative. But the first few months I was recovering, I thought, ‘I really need to get involved with Relay.’ And every day I had nothing to do, I was just hanging out in my house. Well, I started getting up and going knocking on doors, seeking sponsorships, seeking donations. Relay actually contributed to my recovery of getting active, getting out and finding myself. Before that, I’d lay on the couch and watch westerns all day.”

Nagle’s life has been positively impacted by Relay For Life.

“I’m meeting people from all over, I’m staying in touch with people from Texas now, Tennessee, all over the country from Relay, mainly through the ‘Voice of Hope.’ I relay because it’s my way to lash back at cancer. I still want to get more involved,” he smiled.

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Maggie Darnell

maggie@cullmantribune.com