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Kentucky Patient Overcomes Head and Neck Cancer With Help From UC Team

Kentucky Patient Overcomes Head and Neck Cancer With Help From UC Team

Published: 9/25/2015

Stephanie Poplin, 37, Ashland, Kentucky, resident, says in spring 2014, her allergies sent her to physicians who put her on a number of medications that just weren’t working.

"They told me it may be my cat, but there wasn’t any way I was getting rid of him,” she laughs. "Then, I ended up in the emergency room in the November 2014 because a lymph node on my neck swelled to almost the size of a baseball, but they told me I shouldn’t worry and tied it to my allergy issues.” 

Poplin says things continued to worsen and she couldn’t breathe out her nose—or even blow it—and that she began snoring at night.

"I finally went to an allergist in January who ordered an allergy test and some blood work, and they referred me to an ear, nose and throat doctor for the lymph node,” she says. "He gave me a CT scan which showed that I had cancer. I was shocked and devastated.”

Poplin was referred to Yash Patil, MD, associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at the UC College of Medicine, a head and neck surgeon and a member of the UC Cancer Institute, who confirmed the diagnosis via needle biopsy. 

"Her ENT doctor in Ashland called him ‘The Joe Montana’ of ear, nose and throat cancers,” says Jason Poplin, Stephanie’s husband, referring to the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback. "We knew then that we were going to the right place, and we thank God every day we were sent to Cincinnati. Our faith in God and prayer were really important to us every step of the way, and Steph had an appointment with Dr. Patil the day after she was diagnosed.”

After a scope, a tissue biopsy and a PET scan, doctors had some good news: The cancer had not spread. Better news: Her chances were great, with a 75 to 95 percent cure rate.

Her team of physicians at the UC Cancer Institute, who included Patil, John Morris, MD, oncologist and a professor at the UC College of Medicine, and William Barrett, MD, a radiation oncologist and director of the institute, decided that chemo and radiation therapy were the best course of action for Poplin. 

"Dr. Barrett and Dr. Morris are great to deal with on a personal level,” says Jason. "They always make time for you no matter how busy they obviously are, and Jennifer Nafziger (a physician’s assistant), who works for Dr. Morris is incredible—she truly cares about her patients the same way Dr. Morris does. We both absolutely loved her as well.”

During her treatments, Poplin and her husband stayed at the Musekamp Family Hope Lodge near Avondale, providing free accommodations for patients undergoing cancer therapy and their families, which they call "another Godsend.”

"I had my last treatment on June 29, and I’m doing great,” she says. "I can breathe through my nose and finally taste food. I’m just so thankful.”

"She doesn’t even snore,” Jason adds. "I woke up to check on her the first couple of nights because she was so quiet.”

The Poplins also mention that Bernice Klaben, PhD, assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and a licensed speech-language pathologist, worked with Stephanie on her speech, tongue and jaw range of motion as well as swallowing exercises. 

"She is an absolutely amazing person,” says Jason. "We talk about the UC Cancer Institute constantly. Everything here has been so wonderful. The people are so helpful and friendly, the physicians are truly experts in their field and everything is laid out for you here—there’s no confusion about which physician you need to see or where you need to go. It’s a true team of doctors who coordinate for the best care of the patient. I thank God we came to UC.”

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Jordan Bonomo on Fox19 News.

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