Jennifer Seifferly is an adjunct professor at Saginaw Valley State University, where she teaches elementary education. Her profession requires public speaking on a regular basis, so when she noticed a burning sensation in her throat whenever she swallowed acidic foods and drinks, she was quick to get it checked out.
Jennifer first sought evaluation in Bay City, Michigan, where she was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma of her right tonsil. Jennifer was presented with a difficult treatment plan that included having several of her teeth removed, placement of a long-term feeding tube and no surgery. "I was really hoping for a surgical option," says Jennifer. "My instinct was telling me that having my tumor removed surgically was the right thing to do. When that wasn't an option in Bay City, I decided to see what the doctors at U-M could do for me."
Jennifer was referred to Carol R. Bradford, M.D., FACS, who confirmed the diagnosis, as well as indicated the presence of cancer in Jennifer's right neck lymph nodes. Following examination of a head and neck CT scan, biopsies and review of the case by the tumor board, Dr. Bradford concluded that Jennifer was a good candidate for minimally-invasive, transoral robotic surgery (TORS) with right neck dissection and subsequent radiation.
Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2010, TORS is a minimally-invasive surgical technique performed through the mouth, therefore requiring no stitches. This surgical approach can help cancer patients lessen the traumatic aspects of traditional open surgery.
"I was so happy to be given a surgical option. I took much comfort in knowing that the head and neck surgeons at U-M see this kind of cancer every day. I knew I was in good hands," says Jennifer.
Jennifer was placed under the care of Kelly M. Malloy, M.D., FACS, who is a TORS expert and member of the U-M Division of Head and Neck Surgery. Dr. Malloy would conduct both the TORS portion of the the surgery and the neck dissection.
Jennifer underwent surgery just a few weeks after her initial consult with otolaryngology-head and neck surgery. Using the da Vinci Surgical System, Dr. Malloy carefully removed the tumor via radical tonsillectomy. She then performed a right neck dissection using traditional surgical methods. There were no complications.
"The care before, during and after my surgery was seamless," says Jennifer. "From the doctors, to the speech therapists, to the nurses, everyone knew my case. Everything was so well coordinated, which really put me at ease."
The surgery at first made it difficult for Jennifer to talk and swallow, but it didn't take her long to relearn those skills. Now 8 months out from surgery, Jennifer talks clearly and enjoys a full diet, provided that she has adequate fluid consumption. She still has symptoms of dry mouth due to radiation, but she is otherwise symptom-free.
"I feel really good, and I know things will only continue to get better," says Jennifer.
Jennifer looks forward to the fall, when she returns to teaching after a brief hiatus due to her diagnosis and treatment. "I am so thankful that I followed my instincts and sought out the expertise of this wonderful care team. I think my life would look very different had I not decided to come to U-M."