Experts employ technology and teamwork to treat oropharynx cancer.

The team approach to singing again

As a longtime congregational singer, Richard Barfield knew something was wrong when he strained to sing.

“My throat and neck felt swollen” he says. “It was painful to sing.

Richard was just 63 when his pain started. A primary care physician recommended that he see Dr. Karakla with the Sentara Cancer Network. After CT scans and PET scans, Richard was diagnosed with oropharynx cancer. The cancer was located behind his tonsil and was approximately the size of a dime.

“Dr. Karakla informed me that I would need a radical tonsillectomy,” says Richard.

Prior to surgery, the entire team of head and neck cancer specialists worked together to develop the treatment plan specifically for Richard. The multidisciplinary team reviewed Richard’s scans, X-rays, and medical history. Team members review 100 percent of head and neck cancer cases at weekly cancer conferences within the Sentara Cancer Network.

Richard underwent TransOral Robotic Surgery (TORS) with the daVinci robotic surgery system guided by Dr. Karakla, otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon with Eastern Virginia Medical School at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. The daVinci robotic surgery system is one of the many advanced technologies available through the Sentara Cancer Network.

Trusting the technology and his team comforted Richard.

“When I was admitted to Sentara Norfolk General, it was my first time as a patient in a hospital,” he says. “Naturally, I was nervous, but I was confident in Dr. Karakla and I knew what to expect going into surgery.”

Richard also appreciated the support he received from the entire team of physicians, cancer specialists, and other healthcare professionals who contributed to his overall positive patient experience. 

Taking extra precautions  

“Post-surgery, I was impressed with the results. Dr. Karakla had to make two incisions, one from the back of the right ear all the way to the center of my neck, and the other from the ear almost to my shoulder. If you were to look at me, you’d never know,” Richard says. “The robotic surgery was so precise, and my recovery was much quicker than expected.”  

Although the cancer was small and located only on the right side of his neck, Dr. Karakla recommended Richard receive radiation therapy.

“He told me that often times if cancer is found on one side of the neck, it is likely to occur on the other,” Richard says. “Fortunately for me, that was not the case.”


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