Florida man shares story of how he survived HPV cancer

Updated April 30, 2018 - 12:35 am

Jason Mendelsohn was pondering a question during a financial exam in 2014 when his fingers grazed his neck, making him notice a bump he hadn’t felt before.

He consulted his father, a doctor, who told him they’d need to call an ear, nose and throat physician. This led to a doctor’s consultation, which eventually led to a diagnosis. At 44, he was told he had HPV-related throat cancer.

“I’d never known about HPV throat cancer,” Mendelsohn said. Most “people — their bodies fight off the HPV virus. It’s the (minority) like me, that if it doesn’t fight it and they get a certain strain, it can become cancer.”

The human papilloma virus is transmitted through sexual contact. Mendelsohn was told the cancer derived from a virus he possibly contracted in college, which lay dormant in his body for more than 20 years.

It took a toll on everyday life. As the president of Ashar Group LLC, a life settlement brokerage firm, Mendelsohn was accustomed to working 60 to 70 hours a week, along with juggling travel and family responsibilities.

Mendelsohn

ended up having a radical tonsillectomy and 42 lymph nodes removed, followed by seven weeks of chemotherapy, radiation and eating through a tube.

“I watched seven years of “Lost” in two-and-half-weeks,” Mendelsohn said. “Radiation was brutal. I had third-degree burns in my throat. I couldn’t swallow my own saliva for a month. It felt like someone cracked glass and stuck it down my throat. I remember making videos to each of my three kids — letting them know I wouldn’t be there, but showing them what’s important. My wife was a rock star. Her No. 1 job was to keep the kids’ life as normal as possible.”

Now fully recovered, the Maitland, Florida, resident has spent the past two-and-a-half years traveling the country, sharing his story and promoting the benefits of immunization.

Last week, he was in Las Vegas, where he delivered the keynote address at Immunize Nevada’s annual Silver Syringe Awards and fundraiser, an event that recognizes individuals and organizations for their impact on immunizations.

“I want attendees to understand that the work they do is extremely important,” Mendelsohn said. “They’re protecting families like mine from being in the position that I unfortunately ended up in. I’m hoping that they’ll be encouraged to continue doing what they’re doing, understanding that it really impacts lives.”

Looking toward the future, Mendelsohn hopes to take his advocacy for HPV awareness to a global audience.

“I want to have my cancer story told in as many languages as possible on all seven continents,” he said. “Lives in the U.S. are important, but not more important than lives in Spain, France, Mexico, all over the world. I want people to be aware. I’m a son of a doctor and if I didn’t know about it, I would figure most people wouldn’t. I want to make sure they know.”

Contact Mia Sims at msims @reviewjournal.com. Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated who Jason Mendelsohn’s father told him to consult. Also, one of the countries Mendelsohn talks about where he wants his story to be heard was incorrect.

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