After a battle with cancer, Frank Bryan is back doing the things he enjoys most – spending time with his wife, Jean, and family and working a quot;patchquot; farm. He stacked peanuts in the fall and h

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2001

For Frank Bryan

A holiday brought heartbreak

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Features Editor

Valentine’s Day is usually one of the happiest days of the year.

For Frank Bryan, it became one of the saddest.

On Valentine’s Day 1996, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and life would never again be quite the same.

Bryan had just returned from driving cross country on a big rig and ran into an ice storm and accompanying weather that could have caused a scratchy throat.

So, for a couple of weeks, he treated it as just that – a sore throat he caught out in the cold.

However, when it didn’t go away, his wife Jean insisted he see a doctor. He didn’t resist.

What was, at first, thought to be an inflammation of the throat was suddenly a condition that could be life threatening. A biopsy revealed a malignant growth about the size of a grapefruit.

"The tumor had grown down and therefore it had not interfered with my breathing or swallowing," Bryan said. "If it has grown upward, it probably would have caused me much more trouble earlier and would probably have been detected earlier."

The news of the malignant tumor was distressing, but what

Bryan learned next was devastating.

The tumor could be removed but so would his tongue. He would have to be fed through a tube and would have to communicate by way of a voice box. For Bryan, that would not be living. He opted instead for chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

"I had six chemo treatments – one every three weeks – and 30 radiation treatments," he said. "The chemo wasn’t as bad for me as the radiation. Because of where the tumor was located, the radiation was all directed to my throat and it burned so bad that I couldn’t swallow."

As a result of the radiation to his throat, Bryan’s saliva glands were burned so badly they ceased to function.

"They told me they might start to work again but if they hadn’t started working in a year, they wouldn’t," Bryan said and they haven’t.

During Bryan’s recovery period, he began to experience the deep depression that many cancer patients suffer.

"He couldn’t eat anything and had to survive on liquids," Mrs. Bryan said. "He got to a point where he didn’t want anything to eat except maybe some Blue Bell ice cream. He was so depressed and he suffered panic attacks. Knowing that the type of cancer he had is 99 percent non-curable is something that is hard to accept and it’s reason for depression."

The thing he looked forward to and gave him the most joy was going to the mailbox every day.

"Every card and letter lifted his spirits," Mrs. Bryan said. "What he got wasn’t mail, it was life savers. People just don’t realize how much a card, letter or phone call means to someone who is going through cancer treatment."

Visits are good for some people, but for while, Bryan wasn’t up to company. He wanted the refuge and serenity of the farm.

He spent many hours down at his "dog pad" away from the world – reflecting on his past and hoping for his future.

But, as Bryan’s throat began to heal and he began to eat more and to recover more of his strength, his outlook changed and he became more optimistic about his future.

"What was so bad is that something that I love so much had contributed to my cancer," he said. "I grew up on a farm and I’ve farmed myself. All of my life, I’ve been around pesticides and herbicides and the doctors said many farmers get cancer from breathing them over the years. I was one of those farmers."

Bryan said he didn’t know the dangers of breathing the chemicals and, therefore, did not protect himself.

"I would tell any farmer to wear breathing apparatus, gloves and any other things that would protect them," he said. "If you don’t, you’re taking a chance."

Bryan drives for Hudson Transportation and he was out of work for more than a year.

"They were so good to me while I was sick and they have been since I’ve been back," he said. "Hudson is a good place to work because they are good people."

He is back on the road and makes regular trips to Memphis, giving him time to think about the ordeal he has been through and how blessed he is.

"When I was going through treatment, Jean and I would see so many people who had it much worse than I did," he said. "Some of them were so disfigured and some of them were so weak they could hardly walk or talk.

But, the ones who were the saddest were those who didn’t have anybody to care for them."

Mrs. Bryan said often people would arrive at the treatment center alone and some of them by taxi.

"They didn’t have anyone and it just broke our hearts," she said.

Having cancer is a traumatic experience for anyone, but having cancer and not having someone to support, encourage and love you is something that no one should have to experience.

"Thankfully, I had the love and support of my wife and my family," Bryan said. "Without Jean, I could not have made it. She looked after me and took care of me and gave me the will to live. With all of the wonders of medicine, you still need love to give you reason to live. She is my reason."