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Birmingham’s Dr. Larry Lemak has built his name as a world-renowned sports medicine and orthopedic surgeon, operating on thousands of patients, from well known athletes to regular citizens.
But Lemak says his public battle with throat cancer has made him an even better doctor as he got to experience up close the best in medical care from the other side: as a patient.
“In my journey, I learned how to be a better doctor,” Lemak told a packed audience at the Hyatt Regency The Wynfrey Hotel during his keynote address this morning, May 5, at the 33rd Annual Hoover Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast.
His speech at the event, sponsored by the Hoover Beautification Board, resonated with the audience, including Hoover Mayor Gary Ivey and emcee ABC 33/40 anchor Brenda Ladun, both cancer survivors.
Lemak is founder of Lemak Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, which specializes in sports medicine and knee replacement. He talked of being “stunned” two years ago upon being diagnosed with throat cancer.
The most difficult part was telling his loved ones: his wife of nearly 50 years, Georgine, three children and grandchildren. He then informed his employees, and credits his family, employees and friends with giving him encouragement, especially during difficult days of radiation treatments.
“I had patients depending on me,” Lemak said. “People at my practice were wonderful. My son Matthew managed the practice and was a big help.”
His cancer battle, Lemak said, gave him a chance to get “my affairs in order” as the disease is difficult to predict. He leaned heavily on his faith in God.
Being a public doctor, Lemak said he faced a quandary in how to deal with media calls as his cancer battle became public. He asked the media if he could craft his struggle in his own way, and was “overwhelmed” by community support.
“Life is extremely unpredictable,” Lemak said. “No one invites adversity like this in life. When faced with adversity, use it to find opportunities to help others.”
Since enduring his throat cancer battle, Lemak has become an advocate for others, reaching out to cancer victims just as those going through it helped him cope.
Lemak said he was blessed to be treated by a great team of cancer doctors at UAB.
“They were so kind,” he said. “Here I am a doctor and I got to be on the other side. I got the best treatment possible.”
Lemak said he underwent six weeks of care, including multiple radiation treatments a week. Throat cancer caused him to have to eat using a straw, mostly broth, and he credits his wife for strengthening his faith on tough days.
“I came back with the ability to be a better doctor because of the key people who were with me throughout this, including my wife and my family,” Lemak said.
His three friends who were throat cancer survivors “gave me hope,” he said.
Lemak said he is not through with his struggle, but thanks to faith in God, great doctors and supportive friends and family, he is much better. He asked attendees at the prayer breakfast to pray for those battling cancer, including some in the room.
“There is no substitute for the power of prayer,” Lemak said.