Unsure of what I was dealing with, I immediately went to see an ENT specialist. After looking at my tongue, he agreed the mass was suspicious and suggested I undergo a biopsy. The uncertainty was overwhelming as I waited for my results. I had no guidance on what to do next; the only thing to do was wait. Unfortunately, the biopsy came back positive for squamous cell carcinoma. Devastated, I underwent follow-up imaging to evaluate the extent of the disease. A CT scan of the neck demonstrated I had floor of mouth cancer on the left side.
I tried to approach my diagnosis very systematically, relying on the knowledge of my doctors to plan my next steps. I underwent a marginal mandibulectomy and subsequent adjuvant radiation. The effects of radiation were harder to cope with than the treatment itself. Although I didn’t lose my sense of taste, after a few rounds of treatment, my mouth and tongue were so sore that I couldn’t eat any solid food. The canker sores lining my mouth and ulcers on my tongue made it nearly impossible. I had never considered the ability to eat solids a luxury until I couldn’t eat them. Those next few months on a liquid diet were mentally exhausting. It was a struggle to stay optimistic without even a regular meal to look forward to.
Although I had always been extremely self-sufficient, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to be able to beat this on my own. This disease was going to break me down mentally before it did physically. My children and grandchildren became my sources of motivation. I learned to lean on them during my toughest days.
While everyone’s situation is different, thoughtfully preparing for your journey ahead can go a long way. Set small goals and take it one step at a time. Stay positive and use the ones who love you most to carry you through.