Mind, Body & Spirit | National

A bump in the road turned into a Ride to Conquer Cancer

(Heritage Florida Jewish News via JTA) – It all started with a little bump on his neck. Now Jason Mendelsohn is on a mission to conquer cancer and spread the word about human papilloma virus-related cancer, or HPV.

In April 2014, Mendelsohn was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, which turned out to be stage 4 HPV-related tonsil cancer, which had spread to two lymph nodes in his neck. He had a radical tonsillectomy and neck dissection in which 42 lymph nodes were removed in his neck, followed by seven weeks of chemo, radiation and had a feeding tube into his stomach. By Aug. 11, 2014, he had completed the treatments and suffered another three weeks with symptoms of gagging and choking 15 to 20 times a day.

“My family and friends were amazing as I received a tremendous amount of support, encouragement and love,” he stated on the Ride to Victory website (www.ridetovictory.org).

Part of that encouragement and support came from friends at AgencyOne. One of the group’s partners, Gonzalo Garcia, wore Mendelsohn’s name on his shirt as he rode in the 2014 Ride to Conquer Cancer.

This year, Mendelsohn was asked to ride with AgencyOne in the Ride to Conquer Cancer 140-mile bike ride in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19-20. He was also asked to speak at the opening ceremony.

“I have committed to this ride because I believe I can encourage others who are currently going through treatment or who have in some way been impacted by cancer that they, too, can survive and conquer what appears to be an insurmountable event,” he said.

As Mendelsohn encourages those who are fighting cancer, he is also making people aware of the prevalence of HPV, which is transmitted through intimate skin-to-skin contact. More than 3 million U.S. cases are diagnosed each year. HPV is the leading cause of oropharyngeal cancers — cancer in the back of the mouth and throat, as was the case for Mendelsohn.

According to the Oral Cancer Foundation, white, nonsmoking males in their 30s and 40s are most at risk, four to one over females.

But there are vaccines that can prevent infection with the most common types of HPV, and this is why Mendelsohn stresses the importance of parents speaking with their children’s pediatrician regarding these vaccines, and also urges everyone to have an oral cancer exam by their dentist. He also stated that he is not a physician and therefore does not give medical advice.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov), HPV vaccines are given as a series of three shots over six months to protect against HPV. The vaccination is recommended for preteen girls and boys between the ages of 9 and 16; most receive the vaccine at about 12 to 14.

There are three HPV vaccines (Cervarix, Gardasil, and Gardasil 9). Girls and young women should get any of these HPV vaccines to prevent cervical cancer.

HPV vaccines offer the best protection to girls and boys who receive all three vaccine doses and have time to develop an immune response before being sexually active.

At 45, Mendelsohn has been happily married for 19 years and has three children. And that is the crux of his message — anyone can become infected with HPV, which can weaken one’s immune system and cause cancer.

This is also why it is important to Mendelsohn to ride in the Ride to Conquer Cancer. He has raised $18,308, surpassing his goal with time to donate remaining.

“The money raised could one day save your life or that of a family member or friend you care about,” Mendelsohn said. “I would have never guessed that I’d be diagnosed with cancer and that my life would forever be changed.”

The Ride to Conquer Cancer benefits the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center and the Sibley Memorial, Suburban and Howard County general hospitals. It is a two-day cycling journey through the nation’s capital. Mendelsohn hopes to bring the event to the Central Florida community one day.

To make a donation to Mendelsohn’s team, visit http://www.ridetovictory.org/site/TR/Events/2015WashingtonDC?px=1259836&pg=personal&fr_id=1091.

To learn more about HPV or oral cancer, visit http://www.oralcancer.org or http://www.cdc.gov.