A Reminder of My Mission to Educate

I received the email below last week. Unfortunately, this is a typical story and a reminder to me of my mission to educate people that an unhealing sore is a sign of oral cancer.  If this young woman knew it was even a possibility, she may have gotten checked sooner.

“Dear Eva,

I happened to glimpse your story about surviving stage IV tongue cancer, of all places, through your sons’s photo in the New York Times “Why We Travel” section.  I’m so pleased you are sharing insight about oral cancer, particularly for younger nonsmokers.  One of my closest friends had a similar experience around the same age, but was gone within 7 months – even with all the intensive surgery and radiation. She was starting her practice as a PhD in clinical psychology; someone who loved to talk, to taste, to be the center of attention, rather hungry for the world in many ways. Then all of a sudden this came into her life right before she was to get married. I’m still close with her parents and this week in fact helped them dedicate a lilac for their daughter at the botanic garden where I work…10 years later and those memories are still as fresh as ever for them in their loss and their love of her.  I think of her as well, so often. She would have turned 45 this weekend. 

She had none of the traditional risk factors. One thing that will always haunt me is that she was in the midst of a very busy period in her life – an 18 month new relationship that turned into wedding planning, setting up a new practice, and as she was going through this she happened to mention “as well” she’d noticed this small sore on her tongue that had gotten a bit swollen…she’d had it for a “few months” and it was something she kept meaning to check out. It must have seemed to her so minor; she just had no idea. And she was always so good, in addressing any medical issues or questions. Just this one thing, she’d set aside.  She went through radical surgery and radiation but it had spread quickly into her lungs, so just when she thought she might be recovering by month 6…things took a turn quite quickly. It’s still all rather baffling, but such things just are.  No logic or reason.  I’m not sure in that period if she’d seen a dentist.

She did the most amazing thing in her last week, which was to say to her fiance that she wanted him to not wait long, and not be alone in life. She was not one to give up something she loved easily, so it was an extraordinary thing for her to rise to that place of love and understanding on a wholly different level.  Unbelievably beautiful, actually, especially when just days before she couldn’t even begin to absorb what was starting to happen to her so fast.  He ended up marrying one of her childhood friends a year later, who had shared much of the crisis with them — and they now have 2 beautiful daughters, so in that very sweet way Jen helped “open up life” even as hers was ending far too fast.

So, simply, thank you for sharing your story, especially if it might help a few others find options that could lead to your very fortunate outcome. I’ve so rarely seen stories that are about this kind of unexpected cancer in younger women, nonsmokers. Life is very unexpected but it is lovely seeing when anyone responds by making the most of it and creating inspiration.

All my best wishes,” 

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