ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — An avid Englewood biker, Jay Middleton did not plan on spending his summer in the doctor’s office.
“What I’ve gone through is no fun,” he said. “I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”
Middleton was diagnosed with neck and oral cancer over the winter. It was the second year in a row that he had noticed a lump in his neck while battling a sinus infection. Only this time, it didn’t go away.
“I just happened to have my regular checkup scheduled and that’s when my doctor was like ‘This is concerning, this keeps reappearing and doesn’t really dissipate, so let’s dig a little deeper,’” Middleton said.
The type of cancer Middleton has is caused by human papillomavirus. It’s the same virus that causes cervical cancer in women.
“Right now, there is what is considered an epidemic of oropharyngeal cancer,” said Dr. Paul van der Sloot of the Head and Neck Cancer Care Center at Sarah Cannon Cancer Institute at Swedish Medical Center.
Dr. van der Sloot said those cancers disproportionately affect men who may have been infected with HPV years ago and never known it.
“The rates of this cancer have gone up significantly in the last 10-15 years,” he said.
After surgery and weeks of radiation treatments, Middleton's prognosis is good. He still has some numbness from the surgery, but the sense of taste that he lost during radiation is slowly returning.
But Middleton said he believes if the HPV vaccine had been around when he was a kid, he probably wouldn’t be fighting cancer today.
“I’m confident my parents would have made sure that I would have gotten it,” he said.
So for now, Middleton is raising awareness about the vaccine by selling Bikes Kill Cancer stickers and doing other fundraisers through his blog and Instagram pages of the same name. His goal is to keep as few men as possible from having to face the same cancer diagnosis he did.
“I just have to give back. I have to make a difference,” he said. “This is a cancer that shouldn’t exist in a generation or two.”