For more than 20 years, Georgia Hartness did what she loved best: taught primary school on Vashon Island. According to a Vashon Island School District newsletter, by the time she retired in 2008 she had risen to the ranks of one of the “all-time greats” in the eyes of many of her fourth-graders, thanks to her inspired curriculum and a creative birding program that incorporated science, art and writing.
Georgia's ability to excel at teaching is especially impressive because during this time, she was plagued with leukoplakia, an oral lesion that caused her tongue to be inflamed and made talking painful. “It was very discouraging,” she recalls. Her recovery took a long time and was very challenging. But what kept her going were her “great Virginia Mason doctors,” Stephen Bayles, MD; Kas Badiozamani, MD; and Prakash Vishnu, MD.
“I credit the entire radiation oncology team for getting me through a very tough time and keeping my spirits up. I never dreaded going to treatment. The radiation and oncology staff would remember me and say ‘hi’ and give me hugs. What a group!”
By the time she came to Virginia Mason in 2006, Georgia had already endured 19 years of treatment. Each time she had seen her previous doctors, they biopsied her tongue, but the plaque and the pain remained. She realized she needed doctors who were more knowledgeable and could find a way to control the plaque and save her tongue. So in 2006, Georgia had her first visit with otolaryngologist Dr. Bayles. Right away she knew she’d done the right thing. “I knew I was in good hands. He really listened to me and knew what I needed,” she remembers.
Four years later the plaque on her tongue changed and became more painful. New biopsies indicated cancer. Dr. Bayles excised the tumor, then radiotherapy began with radiation oncologist Dr. Badiozamani.
“Georgia came in every day for the next seven weeks for radiation therapy for her head and neck,” says Dr. Badiozamani. “The treatment is very tough. It can cause blisters on the tongue and makes swallowing very painful, but she remained really positive and motivated.”
While radiation therapy was going on, she also came in once a week for chemotherapy with Dr. Vishnu, who praises her for her bravery during the seven-week period.
In 2011, the cancer spread to a lymph node in Georgia's lower neck. Dr. Bayles removed the tumor and she returned to Drs. Badiozamani and Vishnu for another course of radiation and chemotherapy.
“It's always hard on patients when there is a recurrence. But even with the side effects, Georgia was graceful throughout and kept to the program,” says Dr. Vishnu.
In 2012, tests indicated she was finally free of the cancer. She has remained cancer-free and returns twice a year for follow-up appointments.
“It makes my day to see Georgia feeling good,” says Dr. Badiozamani. “She's an amazingly resilient person,” adds Dr. Bayles.
Georgia feels blessed by her experience at Virginia Mason. “How can you think that you'll go to the hospital for cancer treatment and wind up with three wonderful doctors who you like and respect?” she asks. “I credit the entire radiation oncology team for getting me through a very tough time and keeping my spirits up. I never dreaded going to treatment. The radiation and oncology staff would remember me and say ‘hi’ and give me hugs. What a group!”
Her cancer behind her, former school teacher Georgia Hartness is enjoying life again.