A Dentist’s Story of her Mother’s Delayed Oral Cancer Diagnosis
I am a general dentist in WA state. I just came across an article about you in our state dental association magazine. Reading what happened to you gave me the chills. My mother had a very similar bout with tongue cancer in 2010. My husband and father are both physicians and I am a dentist. I would like to tell you her story and how the medical and dental professions as a whole failed to take the non-healing lesion on my own mother’s tongue seriously.
My mother was told she was biting her tongue at night. I sent her to multiple ENT specialists, oral surgeons and her regular DDS as I did not live in same state. I assumed they knew more than I did as I was fresh out of dental school (2005). They showed little concern for the lesion. I noticed the lesion in the fall of 2005 and accompanied her to the ENT for a biopsy which like you, was negative. I knew deep down this could be serious so had her return for follow-up visits multiple times.
There was a complete disinterest and lack of concern from this otolaryngologist. I thought she was in the hands of the super-specialist in this field which trumps the oral surgeon and trumps my general dentistry knowledge. I did send her to other specialists as well. In 2010 my mother had a hemiglossectomy, neck dissection, and radiation. She had squamous cell carcinoma which had traveled into her lymph nodes.
I graduated from dental school in 2005 and religously do oral cancer screenings on all my patients. The amount of guilt, sadness, and rergret I harbor for failing to spare my mother from that horrible experience is always with me. She is now doing well. I was by her side throughout all of her treatment but even having been formally educated in the field could not have prepared me for what her treatment entailed. It was an eye-opening heinous ordeal. She is doing well and has been having check-ups and surveillance at the University of Washington every three months since treatment. She lives up in Alaska. If you would like to talk more please feel free to email or call me anytime. THANK YOU for helping get the word out regarding this disease.