My cancer journey began in the fall of 2000. I was sixty-eight years old. During my annual checkup, my doctor noticed a peanut-sized bump on the right side of my neck. He asked me how long I had it, and if it hurt. I told him that I had the bump for about four or five months and it did not hurt. My doctor was concerned. He arranged to have me see a local ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist for further testing.
After an examination, X-ray, and biopsy, the doctor called to tell me the results were positive for squamous cell carcinoma. The next step was to do an endoscopic exam to find the primary site. It turned out to be a squamous cell cancer on the right base of my tongue. I then arranged to see a head and neck surgeon. We reviewed my medical history and discussed a course of treatment. We agreed that I should receive radiation therapy to eliminate the cancer followed by surgery to remove the affected lymph nodes.
The treatment worked. I thought I had dodged a bullet, but it wasn’t to be. The cancer showed up again 6 years later and resulted in a second surgery. This was the tough one. They cut my lower jaw in half, removed the cancer and replaced the excised tissue with a piece of my forearm. The surgery lasted six hours. I left the hospital nine days later with a tracheotomy and feeding tube. Several months later I felt like myself again. My surgeon and his team did a remarkable job.
However, my joy was short-lived. I had another recurrence and returned to the hospital for a third surgery. After I was released from the hospital, I had to learn how to swallow again and underwent several months of therapy. My feeding tube was removed eight months later.
Looking back now, I thank God each day for getting me through the crisis. He blessed me with the good fortune of having an expert medical team, as well as a patient and supportive family.
I have been cancer-free now for thirteen years. I have been able to enjoy my friends and family and live a normal lifestyle. My advice to others who may face a similar challenge is this: don’t give up, and keep your friends and family close. There is life on the other side of cancer.
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.