Wife's concern with husband's snoring leads to cancer diagnosis

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Daniel Nagridge was never a snorer, so when he started, his wife Nancy knew something was wrong.

"It was unlike anything I ever heard," Nagridge said. "It wasn't like a nice snore or even a loud snore it was loud and angry...it also sounded like he was choking sometimes, you know he couldn't hear himself, I could and it scared me a little bit." 

Nagridge said she spent months nagging Daniel to go to the doctor and get his snore checked out, then finally he made an appointment with his family doctor.

"I told him about the snoring so he looks in my throat and he's like well your throat looks a little off I think maybe you should go see somebody who specializes in that," Daniel Nagridge recalled. The Nagridges received Daniel's diagnosis from doctors at Beaumont Hospital.

Daniel was diagnosed with Chordoma, a form of cancer so rare you're more likely to get struck by lightening then get diagnosed with it. Despite her nagging, Nancy never thought his snoring was caused by cancer. "My gut told me it was sleep apnea. I didn't know, I just really thought that that's what it was," Nagridge said.

Daniel was sent to the University of Michigan Health system where doctors who specialized in this cancer could help him.

"He was snoring because of the Chordoma growth, the tumor growth at the back of his throat and the back of his nose," said Dr. Erin McKean, an ear nose and throat doctor at the University of Michigan Hospital.

McKean explained what could have happened if Daniel's tumor went undiagnosed.

"If it grew up towards the brain stem and the back of the eye it could have caused him double vision that could've been permanent, if it grew towards the front into his airway he could have died in his sleep or had a problem where he couldn't breathe and either died or needed that urgent surgical airway," McKean said.

While checking to make sure the cancer hadn't spread, doctors found a separate tumor in Daniel's thyroid. A team of doctors worked with him to come up with a treatment plan.

Over the course of one week, they had a surgery to remove his thyroid, and two separate surgeries to remove the Chordoma tumor from Daniel's throat.  It took Daniel three weeks in the ICU, followed by a grueling battle with radiation to rid his body of the tumors.

Local 4 met with Daniel and McKean at one of their regularly scheduled follow-up appointments. 

Every three months, McKean uses a flexible endoscopy or laryngoscopy to make sure the tumor has not come back.

"I treat a lot of cancers but I like to see wins when we can and he's doing fantastic," McKean said about Daniel's current prognosis. 

The follow-up appointments were necessary because it is possible that Daniel's cancer could return. Although there is no cure for this rare cancer, Daniel gave permission for the University of Michigan Hospital researchers to grow cell lines from Daniel's tumor.

"Those cell lines are incredibly important for doing research and studying if there are new potential chemotherapy targets, new treatments, or figuring out what causes this cancer," McKean explained. "I'm really proud to say the University of Michigan is one of the front runners in chordoma research and we have a great team."

McKean and the Nagridges want people to know that not everyone with a loud snore necessarily has this rare form of cancer. However, with Rare Disease Day coming up on Monday, spreading awareness of these uncommon diseases and unique situations, such as Daniel's battle with Chordoma, is important.  McKean says that with rare diseases such as Daniel's, a team of doctors is your best treatment option. "Go to a team where you have a whole group of people with expertise supporting you, where you feel comfortable, where you feel your opinion matters in your treatment process," she said. 

By being able to tell his story and contribute to ongoing research, Daniel hopes he can inspire more people to be proactive about going to their doctor to get something checked out if it doesn't feel right. 

"Just because you end up with a diagnosis like this that doesn't necessarily have to be an ending but can be a beginning to getting through and being cured and going from there," he told Local 4. 

Daniel says he feels "eternally grateful," for the doctors and staff at U of M Hospital and for his wife's support throughout this entire process. He is getting stronger everyday, and is already back to living his normal life.