The Big C

“The latest biopsy did come back as cancer.”

Those are definitely not the words you want to hear. Now, admittedly, after dealing with a sore on my tongue that wouldn’t heal for about three months and that was surrounded by a reddish area that kept growing, this was in the back of my mind as I made my way from my dentist to my regular doctor to an ENT (ear, nose, throat doctor). But oral cancer, in my tongue? Me? A lifelong non-smoker who had never taken a puff of anything, legal or not, and who had never used any other types of tobacco products at all? This is the sort of cancer that most often strikes older men with three pack a day habits, not females under 40 who have never adopted that habit.

“The doctor recommends radiation, followed by surgery if necessary.

When I asked, the reasoning was that surgery on the tongue or in the mouth is disfiguring and can have a large impact on things like speech and eating, especially given where the tumor on my tongue happens to be (left side, about in the middle from front to back). Radiation can shrink tumors to the point where surgery afterwards can have less of an impact than initial surgery can.

However, conventional wisdom is surgery first, then radiation if there are areas missed by the surgery. Ever hear that phrase “the margins are clear”? That’s what post-surgery pathology is looking for: no evidence of cancer cells around the perimeter of the removed tissue, which generally indicates radiation is not necessary, although consistent, regular followups are.

Besides, my speech had been degenerating for a couple of months since the tumor continued to grow and is ulcerated in the middle, making it very painful to talk. And swallow. So I sound like someone who might be a little mentally challenged, and the only way my speech could be any worse would be if I couldn’t speak at all. I can’t speak on the phone at all right now, and it’s getting pretty tough for people to understand me when we’re face to face.

So, off we went for a couple of other opinions. I haven’t written about this previously, because I’m a fairly private person, all things considered. But there’s a dearth of sites about oral cancer compared to things like breast cancer, so I thought I might give people like me, who are searching for others’ experiences, anther place to land if they, too, are given the news that there’s something growing on their body that shouldn’t be.

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