After earning a dual degree in chemistry and business at University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, Joshua had been growing his career at Covance, Labcorp’s drug development business, for seven years, starting as a quality assurance auditor before becoming a study coordinator and an associate pharmacokineticist. He considered himself healthy, which is why his cancer diagnosis of squamous cell carcinoma of the oral cavity came as a complete shock.
“Out of the blue, I was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue,” said Joshua. “I was a 30-year-old with no risk factors. I had a check-up only nine months prior and, all of a sudden, there was a tumor on my tongue. The doctors couldn’t give me an explanation and said I was dealt a bummer of a hand in life.”
Finding support in the workplace
“I was so young,” Joshua said. “I had never even looked at my short-term disability policy, but the support I received at work was second to none. I remember going into work to tell my manager, who said, ‘Go home, take care of your needs and we’ll figure it out.’ Covance made it clear that my health was my priority, and I can fully understand and appreciate that not every employer is like that.”
Less than a month after Joshua’s diagnosis in 2013, he underwent a surgery that removed nearly half of his tongue.
“They grafted tissue from different places on my body and ‘Frankenstein-ed’ my tongue back together,” he explained.
After the surgery, Joshua had a six-week series of radiation treatments. The treatments left him unable to take food by mouth so he had a feeding tube placed preventatively.
“The radiation was both physically and mentally the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my entire life,” said Joshua. “I had a mask made that they used to bolt me to the table.”
His feeding tube was removed a week before Thanksgiving but he remembers not being able to taste his holiday dinner. It was about the same time that Joshua returned to work, nearly six months after he was diagnosed.
He continued with regular check-up appointments for five years and, in late 2018, he was declared cancer-free.
“My doctor told me I was cured. That’s really what I’d been waiting to hear,” he said.
Looking ahead and giving back
Today, Joshua leads a team in the pharmacokinetics and toxicokinetics group in Madison. Situated within the drug metabolism department, he focuses specifically on drug exposure and drug interactions. He said his work is part of the early steps that help to determine medication dosing for humans.
“I’m not that far beyond the honeymoon stage of my new role here. It’s a people leadership role, and putting my people first is my number one priority. My experience has taught me that we are nothing without our people.”
During the time he was undergoing treatment, Joshua decided to start fundraising for the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center, where his initial surgery was performed. A year after his surgery, he raised nearly $4,000 with a 90-hole golf-a-thon. Over the course of five years, that amount accumulated to more than $29,000, and he formed an LLC in 2018. In September 2019, he hosted his biggest event yet – a golf outing near Madison, Wis., that raised more than $12,000 in one day.
“It became clear that people wanted to actively participate – not just with their wallets,” Joshua said. “That led me to form the LLC, and approximately 110 golfers registered at my September event. I have to be honest: it consumed my life outside of work for nearly half a year. But to have an event that people enjoyed and that raised money to help others with cancer – that makes my heart sing.”
Knowing that people need help today more than ever, Joshua is hoping to achieve even bigger goals in 2020, and his organization has recently been granted 501(c)(3) status to gain more sponsors. Covance was the presenting sponsor of his September 2019 golf outing and has committed to sponsoring the 2020 outing as well.
Continuing to share his story
While Joshua is now considered cancer-free, he reports having chronic side effects that are likely permanent.
“I never realized just how social an activity like eating is before this. It takes me a really long time to eat. I only chew on one side, and I have to take smaller bites. That’s probably the biggest challenge,” he explained.
He also reports muscle cramps in his neck and that he has to focus on speaking.
“I have to remind myself to slow down and think about the sounds before I speak. At a place like Covance, this can be challenging because it’s really fast-paced. It sounds silly, but I turn on the radio in the morning and sing along to get my muscles moving. I do the same thing on my drive to work. Where I stumble is when I sit for long periods of time and don’t talk. I absolutely notice it when I start to have a conversation then.”
Joshua said that despite these challenges, he is motivated to help others through his work. He’s planning his next golf outing in September 2020. You can learn more about his story and how you can participate in, sponsor or contribute to the 2020 golf outing by visiting www.links-strong.com.
“Life isn’t always perfect,” Josh said. “But even when things aren’t going your way, the Labcorp enterprise provides support and an inclusive environment to come as you are and share your story.” Learn more about our mission to improve health and lives and how we’re helping employees like Joshua discover their extraordinary potential: https://jobs.labcorp.com/ and https://careers.covance.com/