Negotiating a new life as a cancer survivor

Jonathan Gutchess is a cancer survivor.

But the triumph of beating cancer isn’t the end of his story. In many ways, it’s just beginning.

Diagnosed in July of 2016 at age 49 with primary-oropharynx right tonsillar squamous cell carcinoma staged II, Jonathan was treated near his home in Dryden, N.Y., at the Cayuga Medical Center. The radiation was effective in stopping and eliminating his two tumors.

He then spent much of the next two years sleeping and drinking water.

Once his body was rested and hydrated, Jonathan was ready to begin a new kind of healing, one that would not restore his old life, but teach him to live fully the one he now had as a cancer survivor.

“Part of my problem was having to learn how to reintegrate with society after becoming very antisocial, angry, anxious and estranged from main stream society, and my once promising professional construction career,” Jonathan said.

Around Kevin Guest House, Jonathan shares his story with honesty with guests, staff, and volunteers. Learning to negotiate the new waters of survivorship is what brought Jonathan to Buffalo to visit Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.

“I feel I have discovered a whole new world and yet another level of cancer care that I missed in my opening years of cancer treatment when I was too weak to even have much of a cognizant life,” Jonathan said.

“My head and neck cancer has all be disappeared. I’m told I’m cured. Strong language in terms of cancer care and I’m still adjusting to the prospect that I’m free and clear. I’m learning the new me can run almost as well as before my Stage III Head and Neck Cancer hit me out of nowhere.

“Being able to actively seek and receive acupuncture at Roswell by a specialist trained and sensitive to cancer patients is very important to me. I can have sessions with a cancer-sensitive psychologist and I even get to sit in on mindful meditations that are frequently given by Roswell Park. I just can’t stress how important all of these emerging modalities are actually proving to be for us as survivors.”

It was while receiving these treatments, that Jonathan found Kevin Guest House. At a Roswell-sponsored event he was invited to walk down the street where Kevin Guest House was hosting its Fall Fest fundraiser.

“I wanted to be part of the energy!” Jonathan said. “Little did I know or even think I could actually stay there as a struggling and aspiring survivor. Later, I began to explore how I could travel the three-and-a-half hours and stay the night to participate in wellness programs.”

And so he has found a home away from home with Kevin Guest House. He continues to return routinely for treatment, programs, and to participate in meetings of the Buffalo chapter of the Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer.

But maybe it’s better than a home away from home. It’s an escape from home, from special kind of daily grind that comes first from being a human, then from being a cancer patient, and finally to being a cancer survivor.

“Kevin Guest House has been the missing link in my nightmare,” Jonathan said. “It’s a comfortable home to stay at, safe from the daily bombardment of thoughts of survival, bills, phone calls and food. No one here to ask questions of me. No one to ask a favor of me. No one to drop a bomb in my lap. No one to give me another talking to. No one wanting my medical insurance cards. Just a pleasant room, fresh bed, safe house, stocked kitchen, warm and clean bathroom.

“Kevin Guest House seems to run on love from many people’s support. It’s impressive to learn how it all began. How one family’s traumatic nightmare turned into an act of kindness for future generations is simply profound.”

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