Oral Cancer is Real: Randy's Story

Written by Shirley Harris

Oral Cancer is real.

I first came face to face with it when a 44 year old man called me at work to ask for help. We immediately made arrangements with dentists and oral surgeons to help this young man defeat it. His oral cancer was so advanced, that we lost him before the oral surgeon could begin treatment. His cancer was too advanced. He died within 2 months after he contacted me. I’ll never forget that feeling. The feeling of helplessness.

I really didn’t know too much about oral cancer. I was aware of the fact that oral cancer existed. But it wasn’t until this young man crossed my path that I became hyper aware. That same year, my oldest son Randy mentioned he had a sore on his tongue that wouldn’t heal. It turned out to be oral cancer. Not too long after that, my daughter’s best friend, Jill, was diagnosed with oral cancer. The news shook me to my core. These three individuals were young, healthy people. I felt devastated when I heard the news. I wasn’t sure how he, I, the entire family would survive after having already lost my youngest son to war. Randy ended up with one third of his tongue removed.

When I heard about Jill, I felt sick to my stomach. Randy and Jill became close friends quickly. He was able to share his experience with her, the ups and downs of treatment as well as the emotional roller coaster of dealing with the frightening statistics about oral cancer.  I felt devastated by this news. I felt helpless to the point where I started thinking, what could I have done to prevent this from happening? How can we make this stop, and make people aware of this fast spreading disease? By this point, I was presented with three more cases from our client base with the similar diagnosis.

The only thing I knew I could do is make noise. Create such a loud voice to raise awareness of the importance of oral screenings, no matter your age, your socio-economic background. My son survived, and for that I am grateful. We just celebrated 5 years of him being free of cancer. Jill did not.

The survival rate for oral cancer is frightening. Nobody knows more than the family of those who have lost the battle to this terrible disease. It still breaks my heart, and I still have moments where that sick feeling in my stomach returns every time I think about it. In honor and in memory of those who have fought so bravely, we BELIEVE that together, one voice, we can make a difference.


Believe 5K Details:

Date: Saturday, April 9, 2016
Times: 9:00 Fun Run & 10:00 5K

Sign Up HERE

Running to Remember

Jill was always on top of everything. 

She was very proactive with her health. She never missed a doctor's appointment or dentist appointment. She was very in tune with her body, which is why when what she thought to be a stubborn canker sore on her tongue wouldn't go away, she sought the opinion of her dentist. It looked like a typical spot rubbed by a jagged tooth so they filed the tooth down smooth and she went on. After several months, the spot continued to get larger and more painful. She went back again and was referred to an oral surgeon. At this appointment, he immediately knew the spot was cancer. 

The biopsy confirmed her worst nightmare. It was cancer, that had been let go for close to a year when it was all said and done. Within weeks, she underwent a life changing surgery to remove all but 1/4 of her tongue. Because it went undiagnosed for so long, it had spread into her tongue and nodes, and the surgery was way more invasive. She spent 4 weeks in the hospital recovering and then went home to fight the rest of the battle. Chemo, radiation, etc. It was after all considered a "curable cancer" at this point. 

And she did bounce back. Jill was back to running, boot camp, and all of her favorite things in a relatively short amount of time. She was learning to speak better and better with each day. 

In a routine scan in October, just months later, they found a suspicious spot in her lung. The biopsy showed that the cancer had spread. It was the same cancer....it had just metastasized into her lung. Unfortunately, at this point (stage 4), the cancer becomes treatable, but not curable. She was told it would eventually take her life. She made it 9 more months. 9 painful, excruciating months. 

She was only 37 when she passed, leaving her 3 young children to figure out this life without their mother. 

This didn't have to happen to Jill. Had it been caught earlier, perhaps through an oral cancer screening, I am confident she would still be with us. As stated earlier, Jill loved to run and the goal of this run is to honor her but most importantly, to bring awareness to oral cancer. While some think this is a rare cancer, mouth cancers will be newly diagnosed in about 132 new individuals each day in the US alone, and a person dies from oral cancer every hour of every day (source: oralcancer.org). This rate goes up when you figure in the subcategory of laryngeal throat cancer. 

The Believe Awareness run will have 4 machines present that can detect oral cancer and will provide free screenings to those that register. We hope you will be apart of an amazing cause and come out for your screening! Make sure you register today and we look forward to sharing this journey with you. 


Believe 5K Details:

Date: Saturday, April 9, 2016
Times: 9:00 Fun Run & 10:00 5K

Sign Up HERE

If you or someone you love has been impacted by oral cancer, share your story in the comment section below.

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