30 Stories in 30 Days
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. For the next 4 weeks, we will post stories written by cancer survivors, caregivers and friends for our 30 Stories in 30 Days campaign. We hope their perspectives and insight will help others along their journey.
Eleven years ago, I was a perfectly happy and healthy 16 year old, until one day my jaw locked completely. I went straight to my doctor, who told me not to worry—that it was likely not a big deal, and it would go away. Buy I knew my body, and I understood that something was not right. My mom and I convinced my doctors to investigate further, and eventually they discovered a large and inoperable tumor in my neck, called a rhabdomyosarcoma. Since surgery was not an option, I underwent 49 weeks of chemo and 9 weeks of radiation. The process was incredibly difficult, stressful, and exhausting. My hair fell out, I lost a dangerous amount of weight, and I was in constant pain. Yet despite all this, my tumor began to shrink in just 13 weeks, and at the end of treatment, it was gone.
My family and I relied on each other for comfort and support during these hard times
My family and I thought that we had cleared this obstacle, that we had made it through, but 9 years later, I developed osteoradionecrosis in my jaw, a side effect of radiation therapy. I was told that I would need to undergo jaw reconstruction with a fibula free flap. I was terrified. I feared that my face would never look the same again—that I would be deformed, but my doctor saved me. He assured me that I would remain me, and he was right. I was beyond shocked to see the results of my surgery and to look into the mirror and see my own face staring back at me, essentially unchanged.
Overall, it was a tough journey. Through both my initial treatments and my surgery, my family and I endured many stressful times, bad nights in the hospital, and painful experiences, but they remained by my side the entire time. It was a rough and bumpy road, but we now see that there was always a light at the end of the tunnel. My family and I relied on each other for comfort and support during these hard times, but the one thing we were missing was the guidance from other survivors. We needed someone else to show us that light, to ensure us that no matter how challenging the journey may be, it will pass.
Today, my life has returned to normal. I am comfortable, happy, and pain-free. Despite their difficulties, these experiences changed me in many positive ways. Yes, I grew up and matured very quickly, but I also became more carefree. I learned not to sweat the small stuff, because at the end of the day, it really doesn’t matter. Most importantly, I learned trust. I saw the importance of trusting my own instincts and listening to what my body was telling me. I learned to trust my doctors and to follow their instructions, knowing that they would be right in the end, and I learned to trust my caregivers and the people I love, because they always had my best interest in mind.
To other people going through a similar journey I would say this, have faith. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. You may not see it right now, but it is there. So trust your doctors, trust your loved ones, and trust yourself, because you will make it through this.