In February 2017, I was told, “It’s cancer.” In April 2017, I was told, “We got it, your margins are clear, and you’re lucky—no further treatment is needed.” In May of 2017, I was told, “Sorry, your cancer is back. You have Stage IV Squamous Cell Carcinoma and a 40-45% chance of survival at best.”
Those are the words you never want to hear. How could this happen? I’d always been active and healthy. I had plans and goals. Now I was just scared!
When you hear those words, you go home and try to wrap your head around it. You look at your family and say “Quitting is not an option. They need me.” You set off on a whole new journey with a plan to fight for your life.
I was dealt this terrible hand and had to make tough choices. My second surgery in July 2017 went well. Then the chemotherapy and radiation began. I quickly learned why they say head and neck treatment is the most brutal there is. You can never truly prepare for the blows you are about to endure.
Your best defense is your attitude—it will either make or break your will to survive. You have to think positively and vow to survive this for your loved ones, others you may help along the way, and most importantly yourself.
I made it through treatments in June 2018. The radiation damage had caused my mouth to close up. I could no longer eat. I had an obturator I could no longer remove and I was dropping weight quickly. I was barely surviving on weight gain shakes. The lack of nutrition was causing my body to shut down.
I begged my doctors to find a way to help, but they said there was nothing that could be done. There was no one to help me and most patients like me hadn’t survived long enough to find other avenues of help. I was both devastated and dumbfounded—my doctors had given up on me. I had lost one-third of my body weight and could barely walk at that point, but I certainly was not going to give up!
With the help of my sister and daughter, we typed up my story and began reaching out to doctors, cancer centers and research hospitals. A few weeks later, I received a call from a surgeon in New York who thought he could help. I immediately mailed out my records and headed out on a 1000 mile journey—a journey that would save my life.
In October, I had surgery and had to spend 15 days in New York. If it weren’t for my wonderful medical team, I am sure I would not have survived beyond December. What a gift!
The most important part of survival is finding a doctor and team that believe in you as much as you believe in yourself. Had I believed the pessimism of my first surgical team, I would not be alive today. I now travel regularly from Tennessee to New York for checkups, because I would not trust any other team with my life.
My life is not the same, and I still have some damage, but I am so blessed and grateful for everything in my life. I believe in miracles and most of all I believe in myself. Seven surgeries later and I can proudly say that I am a three-time survivor! Out of tragedy comes triumph and a strength you never knew you had.
Let your faith be bigger than your fear. I know God placed these surgeons and my entire medical team in my life path. Without the support of my prayer warriors and a GoFundMe campaign, that trip to New York would’ve never been possible. You will find you have more support than you ever imagined—you just can’t be afraid to ask.
You are not alone. Some people may walk away, but so many others will step up in their place. Be your own advocate. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Warrior on and never give up!
Will You Share Your Journey?
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. As part of that theme, we post stories written by oral cancer survivors, caregivers and medical professionals for our 30 Stories in 30 Days™ campaign. The insights they share can help others along their journey.