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Healing attitude gets cancer patient on road to recovery

Keith Fellers works with therapist Angela Pacaro-Tucker

A scratchy throat isn’t uncommon. But Keith Fellers’ wouldn’t heal. Plus his voice was becoming almost unintelligible.

“I thought I was speaking normal. I was so used to the sound of my voice that I didn’t know it was as severe as it was,” says the Wichitan. “Other people could hear it, like my partner. She told me ‘your voice is … something’s wrong.’” 

A CT scan revealed he had a growing mass in his throat. 

Decades before, he had melanoma successfully removed, so another cancer diagnosis — this time oropharyngeal cancer — was not surprising. 

“I just kind of went, ‘Well, what do I do next?’” 

A bump in the road 

A year before his diagnosis, Keith weighed 265 pounds and suffered a stroke caused by high blood pressure from uncontrolled diabetes.

“I didn’t even know I’d had diabetes,” Keith says. “It was after all that I really started working out and dropping weight.” 

He also focused on healthier eating and lost 111 pounds.

“I was getting healthier,” Keith says. “Then we discovered the mass.” 

The cancerous area on his tongue — right above his voice box — had to be treated with chemo and radiation. Additionally, he needed to undergo speech-language therapy with Angela Parcaro-Tucker, speech language pathologist at Ascension Via Christi Therapy Center on St. Francis in Wichita, to help him find his voice. 

She says she was impressed by Keith’s energy and dedication to getting his voice back to full strength. 

“Before, he was compensating because the mass was encroaching on his vocal tract enough to where it was disrupting his air flow,” says Parcaro-Tucker. “What is impressive about Keith is that he instantly recognized the value of doing the exercises to get his voice back. He was excited to share his progress.” 

Keith says he did — and still does — everything his therapist told him to do. “It’s going to take awhile to heal, so I do all the exercises she’s taught me,” he says. “It’s what’s kept my throat strong.” 

A path meant to be

While still undergoing treatment, Fellers began to train with Daniel Fowler, health and wellness coordinator for Via Christi Wellness Center, located in Ascension Via Christi Cancer Center. 

“Daniel gave me an assessment and routines to do,” Keith says of the appointments he continues three times a week with Fowler. 

Keith wakes up at 5 a.m. each day to lift weights and walk the treadmill. And he practices Qigong — a type of moving meditation rooted in Chinese medicine — three times a day.

“He’s a rare commodity,” says Fowler. “He was weak from his treatments, but he bounced back quickly. I built an exercise program with him and then he just ran with it.” 

Now cancer-free, Keith and his voice are returning to full strength. He is no longer on diabetes medication. 

“The stroke and the cancer were kind of a godsend because they put me on the path I am now,” Keith says. “I love life and I’m healthier than I’ve ever been.”

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