A battle won: One woman’s story of her experience with oral cancer

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By Vicki Vincent

Editor’s Note:  Spencer County Relay for Life 2012 — “Networking for a Cure” — will once again be submitting personal cancer stories to the Spencer Magnet prior to June 8, 2012 — Relay Night.  This story was written by Vicki Vincent, an  Educational Instructional Assistant at Spencer County Middle School.

Cancer, who me?  Well, I would like to tell you about my adventure with cancer and the impact this disease had on my life.  In 2004, I went to my dentist for my regular checkup.  My dentist asked me if I had bitten my tongue.  Of course, my answer was , “No”.  I mean really, if I had, I should have remembered it, right? She said, “Your tongue is a little swollen.” So, she asked me to come back in two weeks for her to recheck me again.
I just happened to be going to my regular doctor to get another checkup.  I ask him to look at my tongue.  He felt I should go to an ENT and let the professional look at it instead of returning to my dentist.  After all, they are the pros.
Well, I did.  Still confident it was nothing, I sat nervously in the chair.  What could it be?  He came in and said, “Well, I don’t think it is a real concern. We can take it out just to make sure.”  
Hummmm, should I say yes?  Well, I did.  Wait, what was I thinking? I said, “Yes?” Well, here goes.
So, it’s off to the hospital for surgery.  When I woke up what a surprise I had.  I could not talk.  Why, you say?  Well, they had cut out a marble size piece of my tongue!  Yes, a marble size piece!  My tongue had already started to swell. It was very bad.  The next morning, it had swollen into my teeth.  My tongue looked like a pie crust around the edges.  Oh, and to talk was out of the question.  Yes, I had to wait for my tongue to go down as well as wait for my muscle to build back up in my tongue.   
One week before Christmas it was time for me to go back to my doctor to find out what the mystery was and why I had to have surgery.   Because of it snowing and roads becoming very bad, I went in early, really early, around 4 a.m.  I had to wait for my appointment because I knew I could not get back due to the road conditions.
I waited, waited and waited.  Finally, it was the moment of truth.  My doctor was not in that day so I saw his associate.  Silently, he began reading the report.  He would not look me in the face.  I began to worry.  Finally, he looked at me and said, “It’s cancer.”
I felt like surely he was not talking to me.  Then he asked, “Have you had a breast exam?”  
I replied, “Is it there, too?”   
He encouraged me to have the test done. I fell to pieces.  It was like a movie in slow motion.  I said, “I do not smoke!”  
He said it started in my saliva gland and was not due to something I had done.
I then went to James Brown Cancer Center.  When I walked in and looked around knowing that many of these patients also had cancer, I was at a loss for words about how I was feeling.  These were head and neck patients that had cancer.  You see, my husband and my Dad both died from brain and lung cancer.  My dad had died the year before I was diagnosed.
Eventually, they took me to meet the doctor.  They asked me a blue million questions.  Then, to my surprise, seven medical persons including doctors, nurses, a speech doctor and radiologist came in to observe me all at the same time.  Wow — this must be bad.  You see, they told me that they may only see this type of cancer once or twice in ten years and that is considered rare.  Leave it to me to have a disease that was rare.  To this day, the medical professionals do not know the cause of this type of cancer.   Because of all of them observing me at the same time, each was able to give me options.  More tests were required to make sure it was not anywhere else before they could continue with my treatment.  Finally, it was time for the radiation.
I woke up in the x-ray room where they had x-rayed my teeth to make sure the rods were in correctly since I had all my teeth when most patients do not.
When I returned to my room, my friend who had accompanied me that day began to look at me with a funny expression.  I asked,” What’s wrong?”  Little did I know that I had six rods running through my neck into my tongue.  My stitches were big and black.  No one could visit me longer than 30 minutes a day due to the amount of radiation.  Anyone visiting me had to wash his or her hands before and after seeing me.  My tongue was tied down for four days.  I lost 12 pounds in four days.  Finally, I got to go home.  I could not talk because they had cut my palate out.  
Eventually, I went back to my ENT for a checkup.  He said I should not have had the surgery on my tongue because it is a muscle and it might hamper my speech as well as being able to eat.  I asked him, “How do you think I am doing?”  
His reply was, “I was expecting to see you drooling in a cup.”  
Looking at my husband we knew, that through our powerful prayers and others, I had survived.
You see that by the grace of God his statements were not true.
Yes, I talk, and sing in my choir at church.  Because since 2004, I have been cancer free!