When I was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2009, I naively got one opinion. I had surgery in Austin to remove the lesion and the side of my tongue.
When I was declared cancer-free in April 2012, they said I’d never get the same cancer in the same place again. One month later, I felt a pain in my mouth that wasn’t going away. Thank God I had that pain so I caught the recurrence in time. The cancer had returned in the exact same spot. After biopsy, they said it was tiny. They told me the surgery and reconstruction would cause a reduced speech function and that “probably” my friends and family would be able to understand me after some time.
I’m single with no children, but I do have a ton of friends and 23 first cousins. I have to be able to communicate for my job and my life. The thought of losing my speech function shattered my independence and self-confidence. I knew it was critical to get to MD Anderson.
Two weeks later, I met eight MD Anderson specialists including my surgeon, Dr. Michael Kupferman. Later he told me that my tumor was golf ball-size. I was shocked and disappointed that my doctor in Austin had gotten it wrong, yet I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of safety and comfort at MD Anderson. At my first visit, Dr. Kupferman put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘We’ll take good care of you and I’m sure your speech will be fine.' Knowing I had a team of experts behind me was so reassuring.
In August, Dr. Kupferman and team removed the tumor and rebuilt the floor of my mouth using a skin graft from my thigh. I feared I’d have a major speech impediment and lose my ability to swallow and taste. That wasn’t the case. I just needed speech therapy for fine-tuning. I resumed my professional work 90 days post-surgery and haven’t looked back.
That December, I decided to support Dr. Kupferman’s research. I understand the importance of unrestricted funds for researchers. Those funds are like manna from heaven. It was a natural thing for me to give back to someone who saved my speech and my life.
I got to MD Anderson as fast as I could, and I continue to return for regular check-ins. I’ve fared far better than I thought I would, thanks to the skilled and compassionate care at MD Anderson.
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