For about two years, I had been tracking a sore on my tongue. I periodically went to my doctor for a physical exam, and I was aware that this sore was something I should keep my focus on. This past summer, the sore became noticeably aggravated. I began visiting my doctor more frequently, and around November we decided it was time to biopsy it. The biopsy results revealed it was malignant, stage 1 tongue cancer. Pretty promptly after finding out this news, we kicked my treatment plan into high gear.
I drew on my network of medical professionals—and I will be forever grateful to them for their help, guidance, and comfort. They introduced me to possible surgeons and options. My friend and periodontist immediately set up an appointment with an extraordinary surgeon on my behalf. Separately, I had previously seen an ENT for an unrelated matter, and when I told him the news about my cancer, he paused, gave me a hug and reassured me that it was going to be okay. He stopped what he was doing and called his colleague personally to get me an appointment right away. It was compassionate moments such as these that encouraged me throughout my treatment. I knew my diagnosis was serious. I knew it had to be addressed quickly and I wanted to get the best treatment I could. In a matter of days, I assessed my options, made a decision, and went in for surgery.
It wasn’t until I walked down the hallway into the operating room that everything actually hit me: watching this incredible flurry of activity, staring into the bright lights spotlighting me, and feeling the cold chill of the room all while I stood in a goofy hospital gown. I thought to myself, “what the heck… this is really happening… put me out as quickly as possible.” Then I woke up and it was all over.
For anyone who is going through anything close to this, my advice is to take it seriously. It isn’t a game, and you need to address it immediately, because the consequences are severe. Looking back, I often think about whether this was preventable and how I could have been more cautious. If you have early warning signs, don’t mess around or rationalize these signs away.
You get plenty of chances to listen to what your body tells you. When your doctor puts his arm around you and says, “if you were my baby brother, I’d tell you to never smoke a cigar again for the rest of your life,” take that to heart and take it seriously. When you end up with a shorter tongue than you started with, and a neck sliced from ear to chin—man that’s real.
I am so grateful for how my story ended up. I cannot emphasize enough how much the support of my family, and in particular my wife, meant to me. My wife just took over. She put her heart and soul into my treatment and care. I just wish there were words to express how much it all means to me and how much I love her. My diagnosis gave me a good dose of reality. Throughout my journey with cancer, I learned to really keep things in perspective. My advice is just get on with it, and don’t take the highs too high or the lows too low.
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.