Swindle’s long road reaches happy conclusion

Published 11:56 pm Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Almost three years after he received the news many fear when they visit a doctor, Christopher Swindle received the best news a person can hope for from a doctor — a clean bill of health.

Swindle was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in August 2006. After three years of battling the disease, he was given the all clear on Friday.

“He was so glad to get a good report this time,” said Tommy Swindle, Christopher’s father. “He’s been a lot stronger than I’ve been. We were just elated. We’re thankful for all the prayers that have been lifted up.”

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Friday’s news marked the end of a long road for Christopher Swindle that began on July 17, 2006. Swindle, who had just completed his freshman year at Auburn, visited the family’s Ear Nose and Throat doctor at St. Vincent’s in Birmingham for a sinus infection.

During the examination, a knot was detected in his throat. After three weeks of tests, X-rays and blood work, the knot was removed.

“I went in without being a cancer patient, and came out a thyroid cancer patient,” said Swindle. “I woke up to them telling me I had thyroid cancer.”

The entire thyroid was removed, and less than a month later, a pre-treatment X-ray revealed more cancerous tissue around the trachea, and led to another surgery.

Part of the procedure involved the paralysis of Swindle’s right vocal chord. His doctors told him he would never talk again. Though the chord is still paralyzed, he regained his speech 3 1/2 months later and is still talking up a storm.

“I’m very outgoing and talkative, and I’m a real loudmouth,” said Swindle. “I was like, one way or another, my voice is going to come back.”

When he was diagnosed, Swindle was told that thyroid cancer was the easiest to treat and get rid of.

The news brought relief to him and his family, and he was declared cancer-free after the surgery on his trachea.

But, the temporary loss of speech was only one of several more speed bumps along the way. He had to miss the first semester of his sophomore year and put his life on hold.

“My life was school, going to school, getting my degree,” said Swindle. “It felt like a lifetime of just being gone.”

He returned for the spring, but that summer, the cancer returned. From that point, he split time among Selma, Auburn and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas. In March 2008, he had another surgery that “removed everything that could become cancer or was cancer.”

Though the surgery and subsequent treatment forced him to miss classes, Swindle’s professors and friends combined to keep him up to speed.

He spent the subsequent summer making up coursework and was back on track before two more spots were discovered in December.

At the time, it appeared to be another devastating blow. Instead, he learned on Friday that the spots were benign, making him officially cancer-free.

“I definitely feel that over the past three years, I’ve had to mature,” said Swindle. “I’ve definitely grown a lot as an individual and a person. It’s been a complete journey.”

The journey is one his family is happy to see come to an end.

“Christopher has been by the strongest of us all,” said Tommy Swindle. “He’s been real confident and focused on what he wants to do. He’s confident that he’s got that much behind him.”