Robert McDaniel never expected a sore throat would lead to a cancer diagnosis – but when it did, he was grateful to find expert care close to home at Regional One Health.
Dr. Neil Hayes, a national expert in head & neck cancers and a medical oncologist with Regional One Health Cancer Care, provided the chemotherapy Robert needed.
Robert said he was treated with skill and compassion at every turn, and now looks forward to getting back to spending time with his grandkids and celebrating his 35th wedding anniversary with a Caribbean cruise.
With 35 years of marriage, his children grown and raised, and four beautiful grandkids to spoil, Robert McDaniel has plenty to celebrate.
He and his wife planned to do just that earlier this year by taking their first Caribbean cruise, stopping in Cozumel and the Yucatan to soak in the sunshine. “It was kind of a second honeymoon and anniversary trip all rolled into one,” Robert said.
But when Robert was diagnosed with cancer, they cancelled to focus on his health.
Now, thanks to exceptional medical care at Regional One Health, they are once again planning that trip of a lifetime – with more to celebrate than ever.
Robert, who has worked most of his life as a machinist for a company that produces giftwrap, wasn’t expecting a serious diagnosis when he saw his doctor for a sore throat.
“He told me I had a lump on the side of my throat,” Robert said. “He gave me an antibiotic and the lump went down, but it came right back after I finished the antibiotics.”
Robert went for a CT scan, which led to a diagnosis of oropharyngeal cancer, which forms in the middle section of the throat.
Along with radiation therapy, his doctor told him he would need chemotherapy, and directed him to one of the nation’s top experts in head and neck cancers: Dr. Neil Hayes, medical oncologist at Regional One Health Cancer Care.
Dr. Neil Hayes is a leading expert in treating head & neck cancers. “We help patients navigate a complex system including radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, as well as support for nutrition and pain management,” he said.
“They set me up with Dr. Hayes, and told me he’s the best in town,” Robert said.
As a head and neck cancer specialist, Dr. Hayes and his multidisciplinary team have the highest level of training, experience and expertise. They participate in national organizations that create guidelines for care, develop clinical trials, and more.
“We can take a patient with potentially curable cancer and help them navigate a complex system including radiation, surgery and chemotherapy, as well as support for nutrition and pain management,” Dr. Hayes said. “We have excellent coordination across the spectrum of care with our University of Tennessee Health Science Center partners, plus incredible nursing and support staff in our clinic and infusion center.
Dr. Hayes’ program at Regional One Health Cancer Care includes a tumor board comprised of University of Tennessee experts who review each patient’s diagnosis and treatment to find the best curative path. It also offers access to clinical trials for patients who qualify.
For Robert, treatment included seven weeks of infusions and radiation therapy. Through it all, he was impressed with the kindness and compassion he was shown.
“The first day we walked into chemo, LaCortni Bonds was my nurse,” he said. “She has the best bedside manner. She was so sweet, and she always acted like she really cared. She always made a point to come by and see if we were OK. The other nurses were the same, but she was my first impression, so I’ll always remember her.”
“One of the things that’s most important for the patient is they don’t feel alone at any time,” Dr. Hayes explained. “We have multiple touchstones. Patients have a planned visit every week along with their chemotherapy, and they’re talking to somebody almost every day.”
Nurse LaCortni Bonds made a memorable impression thanks to her kindness and bedside manner. “She was so sweet, and she always acted like she really cared. She always made a point to come by and see if we were OK,” Robert said.
For Robert, it paid off – in September 2023 he completed his infusions. It has become a tradition for cancer patients to ring a bell after their last infusion, and for Robert, it was a moment of relief: “It felt super,” he said. “It was just a big lift off our shoulders.”
Dr. Hayes said it’s an example of how expert care helps patients achieve good outcomes.
“With head and neck cancer, you need to see a lot of it to really be good at treating it, and we’re one of the busiest programs in the entire region, with patients from all over Tennessee as well as Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky,” he said. “I’ve probably treated as many head and neck cancer patients as any medical oncologist in the country, and currently there is nowhere in the United States with anything to offer that we don’t offer here.”
“Patients truly don’t have to leave Memphis to get care from the most experienced providers in the country.”
That meant Robert could stay close to the support of family and friends. Now that he’s done with treatment, enjoying his loved ones is what he’s most looking forward to.
“I’m ready to spend time with my grandkids. We have two boys and two girls ranging in age from 5 to 10. They’re already spoiled rotten – we do our best to do that!” he laughed.
He and his wife are also finally going to take that cruise – a well-deserved vacation where they’ll not only celebrate their anniversary and second honeymoon, but the end of Robert’s treatment.
“If you have to put your life in someone’s hands, Regional One Health is the place. The nurses were super – everyone was,” Robert said. “They know their job and they do it very well. I don’t think anyone in the city could have done better for me.”