Maggie Ferriolo

2020: the year of a global pandemic and the year I got cancer.


In January, I had what I thought was a canker sore starting on the left side of my tongue. I wasn’t concerned. I’ve had them before so no big deal. Life went on. Later that month this canker sore really started to become a nuisance. It wouldn’t go away. So, I decided to have a look at it, and when I did, I realized it was not a canker sore. 

I wasn’t sure what it was. It looked like a white patch on the left side of my tongue. Taking it upon myself, I booked an appointment with my family doctor. My doctor thought it could be thrush. So, he prescribed me a medication that I would swish and swallow four times a day for 10 days. 

Asking my boyfriend what he thought it could be, I could sense that he wasn’t telling me everything…

On the seventh day, my boyfriend—who’s a nurse—looked at it and encouraged me to go back to the doctor’s office as soon as possible. Unfortunately, in the area that I reside, it’s hard to get in right away to your health practitioner, and I was looking at a three-week wait to see him. 

That’s when my boyfriend suggested I see the dentist, as he felt that the “sore” should be healed or close to healed by now. Asking my boyfriend what he thought it could be, I could sense that he wasn’t telling me everything, and that made me nervous. 

Now with the increasing worry and pain, I called the dentist and went to see him within a few days. He did an exam and told me he was going to refer me to an oral surgeon for a biopsy of the lesion. I immediately felt so panicked. Could I, a healthy young woman, have that horrible disease that starts with the letter “C”?!? I gathered my thoughts and tried my best not to panic.

By the end of February—just a few months before my 42nd birthday—my entire life changed. I was diagnosed with tongue cancer: squamous cell carcinoma. I found myself asking the same question repeatedly. How could this have happened to me? 

I remember looking over at my boyfriend when the oral surgeon gave me the results, I saw the pain and sadness in his eyes. I was shocked! Devastated and heartbroken. Heartbroken for my kids, heartbroken for my parents and siblings. How would I tell them this awful news? I could barely come to grips with it myself. 

A cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic, now that’s a massive challenge in so many ways!

By March, I traveled by car to Toronto, ON for my consultation with the surgeon who would be performing my surgery. While flights were scarce at the time because of COVID, we felt making the drive would be safer, so we could avoid contracting this virus. 

The consultation went well. My surgeon was wonderful! Unfortunately, he couldn’t guarantee how long it would be before I could have the surgery to remove the cancer and reconstruct my tongue. Damn COVID was slowing everything down in a time when everything should be rushed. 

I finally had my surgery in May. It was a long complex surgery and my support was limited to my boyfriend by phone only due to COVID restrictions. I woke up in a strange place—I couldn’t talk or see anything but strange faces, which didn’t help my post-op recovery in that first week. The recovery to date has been difficult. Learning how to talk and eat again is a challenge to say the least. 

I received radiation treatment months after my surgery. For 6 weeks, Monday to Friday, I would go in for radiation—a total of 30 treatments.

It’s almost been a year since my diagnosis. A cancer diagnosis is never easy. A cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic, now that’s a massive challenge in so many ways! I’m so happy to say all went well. I’m cancer free and so grateful to be alive! My outlook on life has completely changed. I am so grateful to have a second chance at life.