Family Unites to Support Sinus Cancer Survivor

Written By:Max Londberg

When sinus cancer survivor Joe Ledell first experienced blurry vision and pain in his right eye, he thought his contact lens was to blame. But during a trip to an ear, nose and throat specialist, he learned he had a tumor.

“At that point I had double vision,” Ledell said, “and in a few days I lost my vision. I could see a wall and nothing on it.”

After Ledell returned home following a CT scan, he received a call from his specialist, who wanted to schedule a biopsy 3 days later. The biopsy confirmed that the tumor was cancer.

A rare, aggressive cancer

"The doctor said we're making pretty good progress with the chemo and radiation. He's hopeful for a cure, and I am too."

Joe Ledell

Ledell was diagnosed with small cell neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare form of sinus cancer that is often aggressive. It is also difficult to diagnose as its symptoms and appearance are often similar to other diseases that are not cancer.

In Ledell’s case, the cancer spread into the front part of his brain. His first chemotherapy treatment began on Christmas Eve at the University of Kansas Medical Hospital. His doctors told him that the best option was to try to shrink the tumor immediately.

“A fast growing tumor shrinks fast is what they said,” Ledell explained.

The aggressive tumor meant aggressive treatment. Ledell has had 4 rounds of chemotherapy since Christmas Eve and began 7 weeks of radiation therapy in January. He’ll get 5 radiation treatments each week, for a total of 35 treatments.

“They zap that tumor from different angles,” Ledell said. “I think it’s six different angles. You can feel some kind of tickling in your nose.”

“About halfway through I guess you start getting pretty good burns through your face,” Ledell said. “But the doctor said we’re making pretty good progress with the chemo and radiation. He’s hopeful for a cure, and I am too.”

Following more than a month of treatment, Ledell’s tumor has, in fact, shrunk, providing hope for Ledell and his wife, Sharon.

“It was up in his brain, and now it’s not,” Sharon said. “The chemo has brought that down. When it responds like that, radiation responds that much better. But there’s no surgery afterward, so I guess if (chemotherapy and radiation) don’t kill it then it’s not going to be killed.”

Family support

Ledell and his wife are staying at the American Cancer Society Hope Lodge facility in Kansas City for the rest of his radiation treatments. The Hope Lodge program offers free, home-like accommodations for cancer patients and their caregivers whose best treatment options are away from home. The Ledells live about 3 hours away from the hospital. Their daughter works in Kansas City and one of their 2 sons lives an hour away. Both have been to every one of their father’s appointments.

The day after Ledell found out he had cancer, his 3 children, their spouses, and 4 grandchildren all came to visit as planned for the holiday season.

“We didn’t know if we wanted to face the kids, especially the grandkids,” Sharon said. “But we told them we need you here, and it was good. They gave us support; we gave them support. We feel closer as a family through this.”

Ledell, his wife, and their entire family are optimistic the radiation will rid his body of the tumor.

“The doctor said we’re halfway there,” Sharon said. “Not everyone is so fortunate. And we may not be either — there’s no guarantee. I haven’t faced beyond the seven weeks. You just go one day at a time. He’s done such a good job. I know he doesn’t feel good, but he keeps going.”

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

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