Thriving As A Throat Cancer Survivor
- Actor Val Kilmer, 62, returned to the big screen on May 27, 2022, with the premier of Top Gun: Maverick. But the throat cancer survivor, who now uses a voice box to speak, had to fight to get his beloved part back.
- The film has been a massive hit and recently crossed the $1 billion mark at the worldwide box office.
- Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. It is an HPV-related cancer. To reduce the risk of your children developing HPV or an HPV-related cancer, make sure they get the HPV vaccine, particularly between ages 9 and 12.
Kilmer, 62, is beyond proud to be a part of Top Gun: Maverick – the highly anticipated sequel to the 1986 classic Top Gun. And the film has truly established itself as a fan-favorite after notching $29.6 million just over the weekend and becoming the 50th film in history to make more than $1 billion at the global box office – not accounting for inflation.Read More
“He was calling it Top Gun: Maverick. Well, Tom was Maverick, but Maverick’s nemesis was Iceman. The two went together like salt and pepper,” Kilmer wrote in his memoir. “It didn’t matter that the producers didn’t contact me. As the Temptations sang in the heyday of Motown soul, ‘ain’t too proud to beg.’”
After reaching out to producers, Kilmer got his beloved part back.
“Forget the fact that thirty years had passed since I’d seen the ghost of Iceman’s dad. I remembered it like it was yesterday,” he wrote. “The producers went for it. Cruise went for it. Cruise couldn’t have been cooler. And the next thing I knew I was back, as the Beatles said, where I ‘once belonged.’
“Tom and I took up where we left off. The reunion felt great.”
In a recent Instagram post, Kilmer shared a picture of his reunion with Cruise in the film with a touching caption that speak to the bond between the two actors.
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“36 years later… I’m still your wingman <3,” he wrote.
Val Kilmer’s Cancer Journey
Kilmer was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2015 but didn’t speak publicly about the disease until 2017. He wasn’t considering conventional treatment at first, thinking his Christian Science faith would heal the tumors, but he eventually agreed to undergo chemotherapy for the sake of his children – Mercedes, 30, and Jack, 26, whom he had with his ex-wife, English actress Joanne Whalley, 60.
Kilmer also underwent a tracheotomy – a surgical procedure that connects the windpipe to a hole in the front of the neck – which greatly impacted his speaking voice.
And though he originally kept his cancer battle out of the public eye, Kilmer eventually shared more about his journey through interviews, his memoir, I’m Your Huckleberry, and his documentary, Val, which is currently streaming on Amazon Prime.
“I have been healed of cancer for over four years now, and there has never been any recurrence,” he wrote in I’m Your Huckleberry. “I am so grateful.”
Understanding Throat Cancer
Throat cancer is a type of head and neck cancer where cancerous cells begin in the throat, voice box or tonsils. Some of the main risk factors for this disease include smoking, drinking alcohol, a diet lacking in fruits or vegetables, acid reflux disease and the human papillomavirus (HPV). So, one way to decrease the chances of developing the disease is to get the HPV vaccine.
The American Cancer Society recommends that boys and girls get the HPV vaccine between ages 9 and 12. The organization also stresses that teens and young adults through age 26 who are not already vaccinated should get the HPV vaccine as soon as possible. Dr. Jessica Geiger, a medical oncologist at Cleveland Clinic Cancer Center, explains the link between throat cancer and HPV in a previous interview with SurvivorNet.
“There are no screening guidelines to screen for throat cancer, unlike cervical cancer with pap smears. And there are no standard tests to determine if you harbor the (HPV) virus,” she said. “However, there is no concern that you’re going to spread this cancer to your partner or to anyone else, because at this point your partner has already been exposed to the virus and likely cleared it.”
There’s no annual screening for throat cancer, so doctors usually discover the disease when a patient sees them with symptoms that may point to it. Some symptoms include:
- A cough
- Changes in your voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Ear pain
- A lump or sore that doesn’t heal
- A sore throat
- Weight loss
It’s important to note, however, that these symptoms are not exclusive to throat cancer. Still, you should always see a doctor if you have any changes to your health.