Ronny Castagna

“My wife likes to say ‘everyone’s lives are better because of Ronny.’ I don’t know about that; I just know that I like to laugh and smile, and to make other people smile too.”

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.

No matter how cheesy it may seem, I really do believe that laughter is the best medicine. Being able to laugh and joke around with the people that I care about is one of the greatest pleasures of my life. So you can imagine how difficult it was for me to hear those three words: you have cancer.

A few years ago, my dentist noticed something suspicious on my tongue. My mother had died of tongue and throat cancer when I was just 6 years old, so this finding scared me to death. I got a biopsy, which came back as mild dysplasia, so I was told not to worry—easier said than done. I was monitored for 10 years, hearing one “nothing to worry about” after the next, until one day, the biopsy results changed. It was cancer. All of the dentists started running around like crazy, and I was rushed to a doctor.

I was scared, but I tried not to show it. My wife and I didn’t tell anyone about my cancer until the night before my surgery, not even my kids or my best friends. It was hard to keep it a secret for so long, but we didn’t want to worry anyone. My comfort came from my wife, and from talking to others who had gone through similar experiences. Their stories made me feel more confident that everything would turn out ok.

I didn’t need someone to coddle me or baby me, I needed someone to make me laugh.

I remember being so afraid when they strapped me onto that table, but then something amazing happened. As if he had read my mind, the surgical fellow walked into the room and told me a joke. I’m not sure how he knew that laughter was exactly what I needed in that moment, but he really saved me. I don’t know if everyone would be able to laugh while strapped onto a bed about to undergo surgery, but I sure did.

After surgery, the recovery was tough. I was so hungry, but I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even open my mouth or brush my teeth, though the not eating was definitely the hardest part. My family was by my side the whole time, taking care of me and helping me recover. Somehow, despite the pain and all the challenges, we laughed and joked our way through it all. I didn’t need someone to coddle me or baby me, I needed someone to make me laugh.

Going through all of this has definitely changed my outlook on life. I wake up every day, and I thank God for the incredible care that I received, for the amazing technological advancements, and for my doctors. But most importantly, I thank God that I am alive. Now, I live life to the fullest. I try my best to enjoy every second and never complain. My wife likes to say “everyone’s lives are better because of Ronny.” I don’t know about that; I just know that I like to laugh and smile, and to make other people smile too.