Walter Cooper

“Now I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a new life now. It won’t be the same. My speech is funny, I eat differently, and I’m all scarred up. I thought the scar would go away, but now I see it as a badge of honor. It reminds me that I am a survivor, and because of that scar I am here today.”

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.

I was scared to go to the doctor. My mother, father, and brother all died of cancer. When I finally went to the doctor, I thought it was my turn to die. My brother’s doctor once told me the biggest problem with cancer is fear. When your body is telling you something is wrong, you don’t run to the doctor because you are afraid. I have 2 daughters and 3 grandkids, so I have a lot to live for. When I finally did go to the doctor, I was in pretty bad shape. I came later than I should have because I was afraid. It wasn’t a complete shock—I knew I was in pain and the cancer was visible. I had been telling people I had a toothache. However, when I got the results back, the whole thing became very real—the tumor on my tongue was cancer, and I got it from smoking.

I retreated to my shell—my family did all of the legwork. I didn’t even want to know the name of the cancer I had—I still don’t know what it is. I thought to myself that my doctors were much smarter than I was, so I placed my full trust in them. Whatever they told me to do I did. I didn’t question anything, I didn’t research anything on the internet, I just did what my doctors told me to do. To be honest, there’s nothing these doctors could ask of me that I wouldn’t do. They saved my life.

Now I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a new life now. It won’t be the same

When the doctors examined me, there was big concern because they would have to take a lot of my tongue out. After the biopsy, they called me with the good news that surgery was an option. Because the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, my surgeons took part of my tongue to remove the cancer and took part of my chest muscle to put into my neck to reconstruct the area. They couldn’t remove all of the cancer because it had wrapped around my spine, and they didn’t want to paralyze me, so I was also treated with radiation. Chemo and radiation were terrible. At my lowest, I weighed 140 pounds. After my first clean CT scan and first clean bill of health, I remember my doctor telling me, “I couldn’t give you better news.” It was like being reborn. Everyone who has been a part of my cancer treatment—surgeons, nurses, secretaries, and more—has been fantastic. I couldn’t be more thankful.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I was going to die. Regardless of what type of cancer you have, when you hear that word, you get scared. It’s difficult to come to terms with, and you start to reflect on your life: did I live my life well? Hopefully you come up with the answer that you did the best you could. Now I’m coming to terms with the fact that I have a new life now. It won’t be the same. My speech is funny, I eat differently, and I’m all scarred up. I thought the scar would go away, but now I see it as a badge of honor. It reminds me that I am a survivor, and because of that scar I am here today. I’m steadily rebuilding my life. It’s going to be different, because I got a second chance. My kids are over the moon. I got to celebrate my birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve realized instead of sitting on my couch, I should be doing something. So, I’m going to start traveling. I think to myself all the time: what should I do with my second chance—this gift I have been given? I will hopefully be here for a long time—I have a lot left to do.