MONTE VISTA — OptiMystics member Ken Hamko was recently diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic squamous cell carcinoma. According to cancer.gov, this is a type of neck cancer that travels to the lymph nodes in the neck and around the collarbone. Signs of this cancer include a painful neck or a sore throat that doesn’t improve or go away.
Hamko spoke about the beginning of his illness.
“Back in December, I got the flu, and I was sick for 11 days,” Hamko said. “It wasn’t COVID, it was the flu, and I developed a knot in my neck. If I hadn’t developed a knot in my neck, I would have never known that there was something else going on. I went to a local doctor here and she took one look at me and said, we are sending you somewhere where they screen for cancer. I just thought it was a swollen lymph node, but it turned out to be a tumor in my throat, and cancer in my lymph nodes.”
Hamko said that he did some research on where he was going to go for his treatment. He was initially going to go to a cancer center in Denver, but since his sister lived in Colorado Springs, and wanted to be his caregiver, he decided to go to UC Health.
“I was actually in Colorado Springs for a little over three months going through treatment,” he said.
Hamko said that they diagnosed him with a 2.7-centimeter tumor in his throat. The tumor was so large that it was blocking his airways and his swallowing ability.
“They couldn’t operate on it, because I would lose some ability to breathe, and the ability to talk, and part of my tongue,” Hamko said. “That was just out of the question. We scheduled a very expensive radiation and chemotherapy treatment. I did seven weeks of chemo and seven weeks of radiation therapy.”
Hamko described the therapy as “excruciating.”
“I wouldn’t wish that pain on anyone,” he said. “I spent a lot of my life trying to stay in shape. I am 68 going to be 69 years old. It just ate everything inside of me. It ate my muscle, it ate my energy, it ate everything.”
Hamko spoke about going through a couple of infections during his therapy and ending up in the emergency room two different times. He also said that he fought having a feeding tube put in because he couldn’t swallow after radiation and chemotherapy.
“I couldn’t do solid food, but I tried until I lost 37 pounds,” Hamko said. “They said no after that, and I had to have a feeding tube put in. I did liquid dinner, and liquid lunch for several weeks.”
Hamko said that there were days that he couldn’t even move, but he said his sister and his brother-in-law were so amazing to him.
Hamko also talked about how at one point in his therapy, he was on 16 different types of medication, and he couldn’t even remember what day it was.
Hamko said that if it wouldn’t have been for his sister being there to administer the medications to him, he would have never made it through.
“My sister took me to all my chemo and radiation appointments,” Hamko said. “She told me what pills to take. My sister would look at me and tell me, it’s time for a nap Ken, and I would just say OK.”
Hamko said that at one point he did try to drive, though he really couldn’t, but he only made it to the pharmacy and called his sister to pick him up.
“I was standing in the middle of King Supers just out of energy, and my sister came to get me. My sister and brother-in-law were my saving grace, I could never thank them enough,” he said.
Hamko said he remembered the day he went home and tried on some of his clothes.
“When I came back, I put on a shirt, and it looked like I was wearing somebody else’s clothes,” he said. “I remember thinking, I am not going to buy all new clothes though, I am just going to gain weight. I’m going to eat more and gain weight.”
Hamko said that when he got back, he knew they must have done something right, because he is now eating solid food and feeling better. He did talk about the chemo causing hearing loss for him though, and how the chemo had caused him to lose all his taste buds.
“There’s a lot of things that you don’t think about losing when you go through this, and it just happens,” Hamko said. “I never thought I would lose my taste buds. I have eaten so many wonderful meals from all over the world, I never imagined not being able to taste my food, yet here I am.”
Hamko does not know if his cancer is gone but he describes himself as being optimistic about it.
“I am a member of the OptiMystics, so I am optimistic,” Hamko said. “I am anxious to find out in July when I do a scanning again, if this is all taken care of. I am feeling good. I am still tired, and I still have limited energy. My physical therapist told me that I might never sing again, because I love karaoke, but you know I get in my car, and I can sing at least five or six songs before my voice goes. One of my goals is to be able to sing karaoke again. They say the recovery will take a while, but every day gets better. I’m looking forward to singing again.”
Hamko said that he wished to thank his sister and his brother-in-law for everything that they did for him. He also wanted to thank everyone that checked on him during his therapy.
“It means a lot when you get those text messages and those phone calls,” he said. “When you are going through something like this, people that care about you, those are the people that keep you going. I thank everyone who thought of me. I have lived a good life, I am hoping for more, but no matter what they tell me in July. I am thankful for my life and thankful for the people in it.”