Surviving Cancer: Reaves Crabtree's story

We are pleased to share Reaves Crabtree’s survivor story, during June’s National Cancer Survivor Month. Reaves Crabtree is a husband, father, and grandfather – and an oropharyngeal cancer survivor for four years.

Tell me about when you were first diagnosed with cancer and how that experience was for you.

For several months, I was dealing with a constant sore throat and hoarseness, so I decided to go to the doctor. My ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor in Birmingham examined me. At first, we were thinking I was just run down and dealing with my normal allergy stuff. Then, they examined further and discovered a problem…a tumor at the base of my tongue. This was in January 2020. We went from what we thought was a simple allergy issue to a cancer diagnosis. On top of that, they indicated that it was probably caused by HPV, a “sexually transmitted” virus. Hearing the word cancer and a description of HPV was a shot in the gut I will never forget. I truly did not understand how this could be happening to me at my stage in life. I understood the “C” word but had no knowledge of HPV or how to handle that label. I was devastated! Through the help of friends and doctors, we got the answers we needed. As I learned more about HPV, I overcame the embarrassment of it all. I was then able to focus 100% on fighting the cancer.

Reaves Crabtree

"The best advice I can give is to not go through cancer alone." — Reaves Crabtree

What has been the most significant change you have seen in yourself since you started this journey?

The experience has changed my life in so many ways. I am blessed to say that I have been cancer free for four years. I had so many supporting me and praying for me. I now see life through a different lens. I am closer to my family and friends. I have a renewed relationship with God and am more in tune with the needs of my community.

What is your advice to people about oropharyngeal cancer?

The best advice I can give is to not go through cancer alone. Oropharyngeal cancer treatments are tough. We all need support from family and friends to get through it. Let people in and listen to those who have gone through the journey before you. I tell folks that doctors do a great job explaining the science and the care, but you get a real feel for what is ahead from people who have experienced cancer personally. 

Have you been involved in any advocacy efforts since your diagnosis?

Since cancer, I am really called to serve. I mentor men going through throat cancer and my wife helps spouses and caregivers on what to expect. My story was about my wife and me dealing with cancer. I also serve on the advisory board for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center in Birmingham. I am working with the Patient and Family Services Committee. Our role is to support the mission of the cancer center. I speak about HPV and the overall reach the virus has on our communities. It is so important that the vaccination efforts continue making an impact for future generations.