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.
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