Jeff and Andrea Busby know the kind of hard work to run a successful border quarter horse ranch. They raise horses on their property, and both compete in rodeos across the united states.
But all of their hard work paled in comparison to what they would face the day they learned Jeff had cancer.
He says the red flags began with pain in his ear and then in his throat.
For nine months he chalked it up to his long history of sinus infections, but then he discovered a lump in his neck.
"I had just been toughing it out, and my partner said, 'Hey, you can't just tough these kinds of things out. You've got to go get this checked out. I know you can handle the pain but just go get this checked out,'" Jeff explained.
A biopsy revealed that Jeff had cancer caused by the human papillomavirus, the most common sexually transmitted infection.
Jeff was likely exposed decades ago, but it led to cancer with one of the most grueling treatment protocols.
He needed surgery to remove his bottom teeth and part of his jaw. Thirty-five radiation treatments and six rounds of chemo.
He had never heard of HPV before his diagnosis.
"Most patients who are exposed to this virus, they don't know it, they'll never have symptoms from it. But some of those patients will move on to develop cancer," explains Dr. Jerry Barker, a radiation oncologist.
Dr. Barker says there is a way to stop the epidemic. The HPV vaccine is recommended for children as early as 11-years old.
"Somewhere along the way, these vaccines developed the idea that they had to do with human sexuality and preventing a sexually transmitted disease, but in reality, they are designed to prevent cancer. These are cancer vaccines. If you could just see what some of our patients have to go through to cure one of these cancers, you would run to get the needle in the arm to prevent that from happening to one of your children," said Dr. Barker.
At 55, Jeff never had the chance to benefit from the vaccine. It was approved only 12 years ago.
He's now cancer-free, and he and Andrea focus on raising vaccination rates and preventing this from happening to anyone else.
"There are so many parents that hear about this, but still choose not to do it. It's beyond me. I can't understand that," says Jeff.
The Centers for Disease Control estimates that most Americans have some HPV strain, but not all strains lead to cancer.
Some of the symptoms of head and neck cancer include ear pain, difficulty swallowing and a painless lump on the side of the neck.