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An insidious skin cancer tortures Philip Boswell, devouring his face cell by cell.
The deeply rooted and spreading squamous cell carcinoma, first diagnosed in 2008, has led the 59-year-old into a spiral not of his own making. It’s a sickness with poisonous, cutting treatments that sidelined his ability to work, left him homeless, and made it so he can only open his mouth wide enough to eat the thinnest of foods - pizza with no toppings, sandwiches squished flat.
Maryland born, Boswell grew up in Palm Beach County, and attended John I. Leonard High School for about a year before dropping out so he could work to help support his family, he said.
Although he has five siblings, he has no communication with them. His mother, who he cared for in her later years, died in 1999.
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Boswell was nominated for Season to Share by the Cancer Alliance of Help and Hope, in part, because he is “basically alone.”
“I have no friends,” Boswell said. “As soon as I got sick, friends disappeared.”
A soft-spoken man, Boswell drove a truck for 26 years. He enjoyed the independence of checking in with a boss in the morning and evening, and then being free from micromanaging throughout the day.
But the job also left his arms and face often exposed to the sun, a continuance of unprotected days playing outside when he was young. Although he said skin cancer doesn’t run in his family, or he doesn’t know that it does, he was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2008.
It started out as a crusty bump in the small hollow between his left eye and nose, but it grew. Radiation below Boswell’s eye and then digging surgeries to remove the cancer damaged his eyesight so much that he could no longer drive a truck.
Other surgeries and radiation followed. In one surgery a crescent moon-shaped flap of skin several inches long and an inch wide was carved from his forehead and pulled down to cover damage on his nose. Another spot that started small on his right cheek is now a gaping half-inch deep gulley that stretches bloody and oozing from his ear to his eye.
Boswell believes he’s had nine to 11 surgeries, including one on his hand during which an intubation tube caused damage to his jaw and throat, he said. It is now painful for him to speak and open his mouth wide enough to eat a normal meal.
“Anything I can cut up real small is OK,” he said. “Pizza is good because it’s thin and I can slip it in my mouth, but it can’t have any toppings, cheese is all.”
Boswell also needs extensive dental work to replace all of his teeth but having the procedure is complicated by his jaw immobility and a concern that it could cause the cancer on his cheek to spread and become even more life threatening, according to the Cancer Alliance.
Friday chemotherapy sessions are also a part of Boswell’s life now that his cancer has moved to stage 4. The treatments leave him tired and nauseous.
“I’ve got no choice but to deal with it,” he said.
Boswell became homeless five years ago and is now living in his 2003 Ford Expedition. The payment on the SUV is $300 a month, something he barely affords on disability. Medicare and Medicaid help pay for his cancer treatment.
When it’s hot in the summer, he tries to find a shady spot with a breeze to park his car. When it’s cold in winter, he bundles up but shivers through the nights. He has no place to shower and must rely on public restrooms.
With the help of Season to Share, Cancer Alliance would like to pay off his car and find Boswell a furnished apartment so he can focus on his health, have a place to store and cook his own meals, and be free of the worry of having to move his car around.
“Somewhere I can go in and close the door and say I’m home and I’m safe is all I really want and need,” Boswell said.
He believes he can beat the cancer, that there could be a time when he’s not dealing with all the pain but he said it’s a “long and twisted way there.”
PHILLIP BOSWELL'S WISH
Squamous cell carcinoma has left 59-year-old Philip Boswell in constant pain, disfigured, homeless and alone. Radiation, surgeries and chemotherapy have ravaged his body and so damaged his eyesight that he lost his trucking job and is now living in his car. Boswell would like to pay off his car and find a furnished place to live where he can recover from his Friday chemotherapy sessions, cook his own food, shower and sleep in a bed. He also needs help paying for gas to get to his medical appointments. The Cancer Alliance estimates $30,000 would help with Boswell's needs.
Nominating agency: Cancer Alliance of Help & Hope
This article originally appeared on Palm Beach Post: A disfiguring cancer left Philip Boswell homeless and in constant pain