Patient Story

Latoya’s story: Grateful for her ‘beacon of hope’


Latoya Bell of Bainbridge, Georgia talks about her diagnosis of high-grade mucoepidermoid carcinoma and the emotional toll it took on her, as well as the comfort and hope she received from her Northside Hospital care team. 

I am a middle-aged woman, living a healthy lifestyle with no smoking or drinking habits; I never imagined facing a health scare. 

It all started with a peculiar bump behind my ear, prompting a visit to my doctor. Initially dismissed as possibly benign, we opted to keep an eye on it. But as time passed, the bump grew, resembling more of a boil. Concerned, I asked my doctor to remove it, only to discover during the procedure that it was no ordinary boil. Stitched up and bewildered, we proceeded with a CT scan, revealing the unsettling truth — a tumor. 

The diagnosis left me in limbo, unable to determine its nature — cancerous or not. With a referral to an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist, the waiting game intensified, and so did the growth of the tumor. It became a constant source of discomfort, bleeding and pus, forcing me to constantly change bandages, even at work. The embarrassment and emotional toll were immense, reducing me to tears on many occasions. 

Every commute became a dreaded journey, fearing judgmental stares from strangers as the bandages revealed my struggle. Finally, the appointment with the ENT specialist arrived, leading to an immediate referral to Atlanta Head & Neck Associates, an affiliate of Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Head & Neck Cancer Program. It was there that I encountered a team of compassionate professionals who not only addressed my physical ailment but also provided the emotional support I desperately needed. They turned my tears of despair into tears of gratitude, putting an end to the endless bandage changes and restoring hope for a brighter future. 

It started with a call from David, ensuring I had all the necessary information and clear directions to reach the facility without any hassle. Once there, Joanna welcomed me with impeccable professionalism, setting a comforting tone from the start. 

Led to the examination room, I encountered the figure who would soon become my beacon of hope: Dr. John Song. His expertise was evident as he assessed my tumor, his demeanor exuding confidence even before the biopsy. With compassionate eyes, he outlined the situation, discussing the procedure's risks and benefits while offering unwavering reassurance. 

Despite the inconclusive biopsy results, Dr. Song remained resolute. To prevent any potential future surgeries, he proposed removing my lymph nodes as a precautionary measure, a decision made with my best interests at heart. Throughout our discussions, his empathy never wavered, leaving me with the unwavering belief that I would emerge from this ordeal intact. 

Bell_husbandOn the day of the surgery, Dr. Song took the time to review the procedures once more, ensuring I understood every aspect before proceeding. Post-surgery, apprehension clouded my mind, especially regarding how I would look. Awakening from anesthesia, a sense of pressure made me fear for my hearing, though it was likely just a postoperative sensation. I hesitated to confront my reflection until necessity forced me to confront the changed image. Much to my relief, the alterations were subtle, almost imperceptible apart from expected swelling. The scars, though present behind my ear, were bearable, a testament to the skilled hands that had operated. 

Throughout my hospital stay, a team of remarkable nurses provided unparalleled care, each leaving an indelible mark of kindness and competence. One nurse, Claire, stood out among them, a unique blend of caregiver and physical therapist. Her dedication and proficiency, mirrored by the entire staff, made the distance I traveled — four long hours — worth every moment. 

Dr. Song's post-surgery visit reinforced the exceptional care I had received, his bedside manner showing comfort and reassurance. Despite the arduous journey, the expertise of the Northside Hospital head and neck team, coupled with the unwavering support of Northside Hospital staff, made every trial surmountable. 

Learn more about the Northside Hospital Cancer Institute Head & Neck Cancer Program.

* The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50% five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions. 


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