Early last fall, at 29 years old, I was diagnosed with tongue cancer. What started as an odd and minor discomfort on the left side of my tongue turned into my "gash", which was then diagnosed as Squamous Cell Carcinoma. As my world was turned upside down, I had several consults with various treatment facilities in Boston. Before leaving my initial consult at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), I knew that I had found my treatment home.
The team approach at DFCI is impressive and well-executed. That first day, I met my surgeon, oncologist, radiologist, and some folks for a potential clinical trial, and I felt as comforted as I could in that moment. We moved quickly pursuing treatment at DFCI. I received desperately-needed imaging scans the next day, enrolled in and began a clinical trial, and got my surgery date scheduled. Before this, I had no idea that tongue cancer existed or that one could have surgery on their tongue.
Throughout the clinical trial I was in more and more pain and experienced increase fatigue and terrible headaches. The Research Nurse at DFCI was a constant point of contact for me. I could ask for her help with anything at all and she would magically make it happen. She would even preemptively call me just to check in on how I was feeling. Next was surgery, and my first time to ever be admitted to a hospital. In the 9 hours that I was under anesthesia, the team removed ~40% of my tongue, transplanted skin tissue from my wrist onto my tongue, and grafted skin from my thigh to help the wrist heal. They called it "major surgery" and they were right.
After recovering from surgery, I began radiation treatment and thankfully did not require concurrent chemo. For 30 treatment days, I traveled to DFCI, made my way underground, and was strapped down to a table from the shoulders up to be radiated in three different areas. Head and Neck Radiation is a brutal and miserable treatment - the myriad of side effects over the next 4 months were unbelievable. Loss of taste, sensitivity to temperatures, multiple occurrences of thrush, loss of appetite, mouth sores, malnutrition and dehydration, vomiting, mucositis, fatigue, and just constant and unrelenting pain.
Fast forward to July 2020, I'm in a much better place and FOREVER grateful to DFCI for not only the world-class medical treatment that they provide but also the genuine, caring, attentive, and dedicated staff. I walk to give back to this amazing institution that has given me so much, including my life. I walk for myself, to complete was what physically impossible mere months ago. I walk for other young adult cancer patients, particularly those with this brutal diagnosis accompanied by "no known cause." I walk because #tonguecancerisathing.
I am participating in the 2020 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk: Your Way presented by Hyundai, taking steps toward the ultimate finish line: a world without cancer!
When you make a gift to my walk, you’re directly supporting Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s unique 50-50 balance between cutting-edge science and highly compassionate cancer care. Your support allows Dana-Farber leaders to enhance programs and initiatives that serve pediatric and adult patients and their families.
Thank you for supporting my participation in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk. Together, we can conquer cancer!