By Todd Ceisner
Stacey King was sitting in a deer stand last fall when he felt the urge to itch the side of his neck. He thought little of it until he noticed a small knot or spot on his skin near his jawline. He felt the other side of his neck for the same thing and found none.
Soon after, he had it checked out by his doctor and underwent blood tests, but nothing was conclusive. He was told to keep an eye on it and when he had it re-checked in April by another doctor, a biopsy revealed the spot was malignant.
Life came to a screeching halt. King was told he had squamous cell carcinoma.
King, four events into the 2014 FLW Tour schedule at the time, put his fishing career on hold. The path ahead was too uncertain to be out on the road chasing bass, he figured.
After two surgeries and a steady dose of radiation and chemotherapy over the summer, he's hoping the worst part is behind him. He's been focused on regaining his strength and weight he lost during the ordeal. He finished radiation treatments five weeks ago and he's gradually feeling more like himself. Another round of scans won't be done for a few more weeks when doctors will be able to see if the surgeries and treatments were effective.
"My doctors tell me I'm ahead of where they thought I'd be," he said. "I'm doing a lot better than most people do at this stage, but it seems awful slow for me.
"I've being out fishing three times now for about 90 minutes to two hours," he added. "The last time out, I was out for three hours and I got tired pretty quick. It helps in building my strength back up, though."
Hard to Pinpoint
In May, King had surgery to remove his tonsils and had biopsies done on tissue taken from his throat and the base of his tongue.
"They were trying to find the primary source of the cancer," he said. "That first surgery nearly killed me. It was bad."
It took him a month to recuperate, but he was able to fish a little bit around home in June. He was back in the operating room in July as doctors removed 24 of his lymph nodes, six of which were cancerous. Still, his doctors were unable pinpoint the cancer's origin.
"They did all the scans, but the type of cancer it was, they said it never starts in the lymph nodes," he said. "It usually starts somewhere else. They did scans and biopsies, they took my tonsils out, but they couldn't find the primary source."
After taking a month to recover from that procedure, he started chemo and radiation in early August. He had four chemo treatments three weeks apart and went for radiation five days a week for six weeks. The combination of the two took its toll on him.
Doctors told him he'd be facing a three-month recovery period from the intense treatments and he feels like he's holding his own. Because of the nature of the surgeries on his neck and throat, he was on a liquid diet for a time and he said he's shed about 10 pounds from his already lean frame. He's working with a nutritionist now to put the weight back on in a healthy way.
"I was fortunate," he said. "When they treat your throat, most people can't eat, but I set it in my mind that I wasn't going to have a feeding tube. I started eating solid foods here and there and after two weeks. My saliva production is really low right now so I'm having to drink a lot of water when I eat, but they say that will gradually come back.
"After the series of treatments, they seem to think that the source was so small or fine that it didn't show up on any of the scans," he said. "That's why they went with that course of radiation and chemo. The prognosis is good. They've had good success with it before."
He won't know how effective the treatments were for another six weeks or so. He has to wait three months following his final radiation treatment before additional scans can be done.
"It's a type of skin cancer and they could never find it on the outside of me," he added. "It was inside, I guess."
He had high praise for the staff of the C.H. “Chub” O’Reilly Cancer Center at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Mo.
"It's a wonderful facility," he said. "You think you've got it bad, but then you see some of the people in there and what they're going through. Then you realize you don't have it quite so bad."
He's walking every morning in an effort to regain his strength and stamina. He starts with a mile and then goes from there based on how he feels.
"The weird thing with cancer," he said, "is you never know what you're going to be faced with. I've been pretty positive through the whole thing, more so since I've been on the water here recently. Being down on your back for six to eight weeks, that's pretty hard on your mental outlook. I was fortunate to do well with it and I'm hoping to get my strength back to do some hunting and some fishing, too."
Humbled by Hall Call
King said he's been overwhelmed by the support he's received from friends and strangers, who flooded his Facebook page with well-wishes.
"It's been amazing how many people have contacted me through Facebook," he said. "There have been thousands of people – people I don't even know. That's a real spirit-lifter right there. "
His spirits received another shot in the arm a few weeks ago when it was announced he'll be inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame at the Bassmaster Classic next February.
"That was a surprise," he added. "I knew I'd been nominated, but it's an extreme honor for me and it's very humbling to think that I'm going to be part of something with folks who when I was younger I considered my mentors and heroes."
King is taking a wait and see approach with his recovery and subsequent test results before deciding whether or not to fish the FLW Tour in 2015. He needs to build up his stamina a considerable amount still, but it's something he's working toward and the Hall of Fame honor only serves as more motivation to get back out there.
"I would like to fish again, but I'm certainly a long way from spending eight hours on the water right now," he noted. "I'll see how it goes. I'm not going to say yay or nay for a while until I know a little bit more. If it works out and I get strong enough, I may do it again. If I can do it, I'll do it just to prove to myself that I can."