Editor’s Note: The Courier asked cancer survivors and/or family members to share their stories during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A few people have written to tell of their experiences.
We thank all the people who participated. As many of you said, you want others to know about the experience and to always have hope.
Their stories will run often this month.
My long journey with cancer began in 1979 when I was only 47 years old. My dad had passed away in April, and my mom came to live with me and two of my children on a farm in Davis County. My other three children were married and gone from home. I had been recently been divorced and was employed as a bookkeeper at an automobile dealership in Bloomfield. I began to feel that something was caught in my throat and went to the doctor. The doctor diagnosed me as having a cyst on my right tonsil, gave me antibiotics and told me to come back in a week to have it checked.
On my return visit he sent me to the Davis County Hospital to have my tonsils taken out. I was given anesthesia, but when I awoke I still had my tonsils and a biopsy had been taken and sent to be analyzed. When the results came back, it was diagnosed as Squamous Cell Carcinoma of the right tonsil. My whole mind and body had been numb since finding out I had cancer and not likely to recover. I just prayed I could live until my kids were out on their own.
I was sent to Mayo Clinic immediately, and the doctors corresponded back and forth with doctors from the University of Iowa Hospital & Clinics. It was decided to have my treatments in Iowa City since it was closer to home. A group of doctors had a discussion with me about pulling my teeth, since they are always in danger during radiation. At first they considered pulling all my teeth, but because I was only 47, they decided to leave six above and six below and pulled my other 16 teeth. I had dental surgery and it took me two weeks to recover from that before they began radiation. I had 39 radiation treatments over a three-month period. I was able to stay in the hospital five days and come home on weekends. I got along pretty well for a few treatments and then started getting a sore throat and losing saliva. I had no appetite at all, and it was so hard to swallow and I didn’t even want to try. I lost 50 pounds during my treatments and also had to go to the dentist and have all the fillings taken out of my teeth replaced with new fillings. I was given a two-week break near the end of my treatments because I got so weak.
When I returned home, my cancer was gone, but the radiation had caused so much damage to other areas. I had lots of problems swallowing food and choking. I could only eat foods that could be swallowed easily. About two months after my radiation I got cellulitis, and I had to go back to the hospital in Iowa City and put on IV’s for two weeks. The dentist said I could probably never have partials, but after two years I was able to get them, however, I always had trouble with them. In 1990 I had crowns put on all my teeth and 10 years later I had all new crowns put on again. I have spent a fortune on dental care because of radiation. I’ve had so many problems with sore throats, sore mouth, dry mouth, sinus and cough and I still do
There were some difficult times during the next several years that I won’t go into. I’ve made many trips to Iowa City for check-ups with doctors and dentists. I started getting lots of lung infections and I had a swallow test and found that 65 percent of my food was aspirating into my lungs, so I had to be put on a feeding tube in 2006 and have been on it over five years and cannot eat or drink anything. I am having trouble with my vocal cords and it is a problem for me to speak much of the time.
Then in 2010 I was found to have a mass in my chest which was diagnosed as an aggressive lymphoma. At first I was not going to take any more treatments, but was told there was fairly good success with chemo, so I went to the McCreery Cancer Clinic in Ottumwa during the summer of 2010. I had six rounds of chemo and am cancer free as of this time, although I was told there is a chance of it returning and am still having check-ups. I’ve had PT scans every six months since.
My life has been rather difficult, but I am so thankful to have been given the chance to see so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. All of my five children are so good to me and very supportive. My thanks to my church, the many people who have kept me in their prayers, and to God for giving me these extra years to enjoy with my family.