Can you remember what you were doing 10 years ago today? My guess would be, unless you were having a baby, or getting married, it would be highly unlikely that you would remember something that happened that long ago. I remember exactly what I was doing, though.
My husband and I were sitting across the desk from a young oral surgeon, who was explaining to us that FabGrandpa had Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the Tongue. And he was crying. Maybe because the doctor was crying, maybe because he said that really scary “C” word that no one wants to hear, I will never forget that day. FabGrandpa and I went home, stunned, and dazed.
Only five months before, we had sold our house and all of our possessions, and bought our first travel trailer so we could go off to see the world. Now, we had no idea what our future would hold. We had no statistics, nothing to read to calm our fears, no information. His treatment began with surgery to remove part of his tongue, 14 lymph nodes in his neck and the salivary glands on one side. When he came out of surgery, he looked like Frankenstein, with an incision that went from just under his ear to the middle of his throat, closed up with metal staples.
A couple of weeks later, he had to have all of his teeth removed in preparation for radiation treatments. Right after that, the radiation began, and went on for 37 treatments. The radiation was painful, and killed not only the cancer cells, but the remaining salivary glands as well, and burned his entire mouth and throat. Before they were done, FabGrandpa had lost almost a hundred pounds, and was not able to eat or drink anything at all for about two weeks. He was advised in the beginning to get a feeding tube inserted, but he refused. I finally took him to the emergency room, where they gave him IV’s to hydrate him on an outpatient basis for several day.
It is not easy being either the one receiving treatment for cancer, or the caregiver to that person. It was very hard for me to stand by and watch as the man I loved more than anything in the world suffered so. But the main thing is, he DID survive. We got through the all the treatments, and have had a wonderful 10 years together. Not everyone is so lucky. My friend, Donna’s husband, Michael, was one of the ones who didn’t make it.
The statistics (From The Oral Cancer Foundation):
- Close to 37,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year.
- It will cause over 8,000 deaths, killing roughly 1 person per hour, 24 hours per day.
- Of those 37,000 newly diagnosed individuals, only slightly more than half will be alive in 5 years. This is a number which has not significantly improved in decades.
The death rate for oral cancer is higher than that of cancers which we hear about routinely such as cervical cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, laryngeal cancer, cancer of the testes, and endocrine system cancers such as thyroid, or skin cancer (malignant melanoma). If you expand the definition of oral cancers to include cancer of the larynx, for which the risk factors are the same, the numbers of diagnosed cases grow to approximately 50,000 individuals, and 13,500 deaths per year in the US alone. Worldwide the problem is much greater, with over 640,000 new cases being found each year.
Signs and symptoms of oral cancer:
- A sore or lesion in the mouth that does not heal within two weeks.
- A lump or thickening in the cheek.
- A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth.
- A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat.
- Difficulty chewing or swallowing.
- Difficulty moving the jaw or tongue.
- Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth.
- Swelling of the jaw that causes dentures to fit poorly or become uncomfortable.
In celebration of FabGrandpa’s 10 years of survival, we are asking people to get screened for oral cancer–it is a painless process–just ask your doctor or dentist to screen you for oral cancer the next time you go. Click here to read about what they do in a screening.