Lovell man battles throat cancer caused by HPV virus

To find out about the benefit for Paul, click here.

By Lisa Williams Ackley

Staff Writer

LOVELL — Paul McLaughlin is 48 years old and has been married to the love of his life, Christine, for 25 years. The couple has seven children, ages nine through 22, whom they love and adore.

Paul is a tall, strapping guy — a lifelong non-smoker, who has never spent a night in a hospital.

So, it was a world-shattering moment just over one month ago, when Paul learned he has Stage 4 throat cancer.

Paul was then delivered some more news that was, in and of itself, startling, to say the least — that his Stage 4 squamous cell carcinoma was possibly caused by the sexually-transmitted Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and that he likely contracted it during his college years, way before he ever even thought about asking Christine to marry him.

How could that be?

Late last week, Paul’s doctor informed him that it has been confirmed by a pathology test — his throat cancer is, in fact, the type caused by HPV — believed to be more curable than other types of cancer of the throat and neck.

Prior to finding out his cancer is the type caused by the HP virus, Paul said, “I’m hoping that it (the pathology report) comes back positive for an STD (sexually-transmitted disease), because my chances of successfully getting through this will be between 80 and 90% instead of the 50 to 70% rate of cure they’re giving me now. So, here I am hoping I’ve got an STD — it’s funny — it’s hysterical — its’s sad as Hell.”

FAMILY MAN — Paul McLaughlin Sr., is shown here with two of his seven children, 22-year-old Paul Jr., at right, and 19-year-old Kevin (in back). (Ackley Photo)

According to recent articles citing university studies, the throat and neck cancer borne of the HP virus, and that appears two to three decades later in men who were exposed to it in their teens and 20s, is increasing at an alarming rate. One father, now in his early 50s, who has the same type of cancer Paul has, said he thought HPV was a “women-only” disease, as it is the primary cause of cervical cancer in women.

Before he received word that his throat cancer stemmed from the HP virus, Paul said he had already learned that the odds of recovering from his throat cancer would be remarkably better if it were the HPV-related type.

Dr. Eric Gendren, the chairman of the otolaryngology department at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, recently told The New York Times that he thinks “it is safe to say that we are on the cusp here of a pandemic — an epidemic that’s about to begin” of HPV-related throat cancers.

Paul said he noticed a lump in his neck in late June or early July, “So, I went to my general practitioner,” he said. “The blood work was all normal, and that’s a good sign.” His physician referred Paul to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT).

“He put a scope down my throat and said, ‘Nothing showing,’” stated Paul. “So, he took a little biopsy.”

“The lump kept getting bigger, and I started losing weight and losing notches on the belt,” said Paul. “I lost 40 pounds, in three months. I thought the scale was broken — I really did. I knew I’d lost weight. My pants weren’t fitting like they did. But, I had no pain — ever.”

He said his cancer was rated as Stage 4, “because it had metastasized.”

One month ago, Paul had surgery to remove his left tonsil and doctors also found a tumor, two centimeters in size, on a lymph node in his neck.

Paul said that in his own online research of throat cancer caused by the HP virus, he found the rate of it has increased 500%, since 2004.

As for treatment, Paul had thought he’d be treated at a facility in Scarborough, until his family practitioner and close friend, Dr. Eric Gerchman, told him, “We’ve got a good oncologist right in Bridgton — Dr. Hans Boedeker.”

Paul said that Dr. Boedeker has recommended a type of treatment for his cancer “that is a little bit different approach — it will help me in my work.” Paul is a plumber who does heating, air conditioning and refrigeration work. He said his son, Paul Jr., will graduate in the spring and be licensed to perform the same type of work as Paul Sr.

“You look at a picture of me at his age and they’re almost identical,” Paul Sr. said. “I call him ‘Mini Me’!”

Paul began his first course of chemotherapy at Bridgton Hospital on Nov. 21.

The chemotherapy treatment that comes before radiation treatment, said Paul, “is designed to soften up the cancer cells — to set them up for the (future) radiation to kill them.”

“They will load me up with chemotherapy for about six hours at Bridgton Hospital, with two separate types of chemo, then they will send me home with a third type of chemo for 96 hours more at home (through a pump attached to the waist),” said Paul. He will spend three weeks repeating the above procedure.

“Dr. Boedeker and everybody has told me that my type of cancer is very curable,” said Paul.

As he spoke, Paul exhibited the character trait for which he is perhaps best known — his wonderful sense of humor — accompanied by a roaring laugh that is contagious.

Said Paul, “Laughing is the key — and in the McLaughlin family there is always laughter and sarcasm!”

Paul and Christine’s children are 25-year-old Julie, 22-year-old Paul Jr., 20-year-old Amy, 19-year-old Kevin, 15-year-old David, 12-year-old Matthew who is autistic, and nine-year-old Aidan Patrick.

Paul said that during the diagnosis process, his surgery and now his chemotherapy and the radiation that will follow, he has gathered a lot of his strength from his nephew — his sister Kathy’s son — who is in the Navy where he received specialized training.

“I learned from him what he said he learned during his training — that this is one moment at a time — you can’t worry about the next 10 and you can’t worry about the next 10 after that. If you start thinking about the future at all, it gets you down. That was my inspiration — I really think of that quite often. Get through this moment, and the next moment will come and we’ll get past it.”

Once the chemotherapy is completed, Paul said doctors will reassess his tumor.

“The second plan will be radiation and chemo, at that point,” said Paul. He said he expects he will be “down and out” toward the end of January and early February, following his radiation and chemo treatments, and it will take him until May to get back on his feet and longer than that to be able to work again.

“When Paul Jr. gets out of school, he’ll come to work with me,” Paul Sr. said proudly.

$10,000 deductible now and again after first of year

Being a self-employed husband and father, providing health insurance for you and your family can be financially crushing. Paul McLaughlin Sr. has to come up with a $10,000 deductible payment for himself before the end of the year — and must pay another $10,000 deductible payment right after the first of the year. As if having cancer isn’t difficult enough! His insurance coverage requires a $10,000 deductible per person.

Paul pays $825 per month for health insurance premiums, and he recently paid out $2,400 for dental plates and dental work that he had to have done before any chemotherapy treatments could take place.

“We cashed in our 401k — and that ($10,000 deductible) is going to eat up a lot of it,” said Paul.

Scott Thomas to the rescue

Asked if he knew that some of his family and friends refer to him as their “unsung hero,” tears sprung to Paul’s eyes.

“I never knew,” he replied.

Then, with his characteristic sense of humor, he said, “I’m just another idiot on the ballfield!”

Turning serious, Paul said of his friend Scott Thomas, “Scott’s the unsung hero.”

What was Paul’s first reaction when Scott and Mark Moulton showed up at his door and announced they were going to hold a benefit supper and auction for him?

“Just blown away,” said Paul.

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