Combating Fear of Cancer with a Smile

After speaking for the Detroit Area Health Council, I was contacted by an orthodontist who asked me to speak for her annual CE seminar. Between the time she asked me to speak, and the event, her 7 year old son was diagnosed with a brain cancer and needed to undergo treatment. My story hit a deep chord within her.

I was invited to meet her son Jacob for breakfast the morning after the CE course. He wasn’t going to school because he was checking into the hospital for another treatment. When I greeted him, he wasn’t too happy. I asked, “Did you get forced into meeting me?”

He said, “No. It’s just that I’m scared about going back to the hospital again.”

“I know what it’s like. I discovered a secret to help. Want to hear about it?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said with a frown.

“Force yourself to smile. Come on, go ahead and try it.”

“No, that’s stupid.”

“Ah, It can’t hurt to try. Watch me.” I made a forced, awkward smile. He wanted to laugh but didn’t. His mom encouraged him to try it. He did. He bared his teeth, looking like he was angry. His mom and I laughed. And, then, he laughed which is when his Mom got this picture.

It was an honor to meet such a courageous young man.

I’m attaching his Mom’s introduction of me at the CE event. I was moved by her words and wanted to share them:

“We have an amazing program this evening, and I am delighted to introduce our speaker…no…speaker doesn’t quite sum it up…our MASTER STORYTELLER…Eva Grayzel. Eva is a dental patient, and a survivor of oral cancer. She is here to tell us her story, and what a story it is. She will make you laugh, she may even make you cry, but what we are hoping is that she makes you think about the person who will be sitting in your dental chair tomorrow morning. Not the patient who needs a DO composite or a PFM crown…but the person sitting there. The person who has a job, and a family, and a life. The person who is relying on YOU to make a correct diagnosis, if indeed there is one to be made. The person who has to deal with the horrible consequences when a misdiagnosis is made. Eva is here to tell us her story of how she had stage 4 oral cancer, which was misdiagnosed for months, and what she as a person had to go through to treat it, fight it, and beat it.

I had the opportunity to hear Eva speak on this topic last Spring, and I was blown away by her story. Little did I know that just a few months later her words would have a much more personal meaning, when my 7 year old son was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. As some of his treatments haven’t been that different from hers, I thought of her and her story after his surgery and during each of his 30 radiation treatments. I hope that none of you ever have to go through what my family is going through, but I hope that Eva’s words have as much meaning for you every time you treat a patient, or assist with a patient, or talk to a patient. Because we as dental professionals need to remember that our patients are people, and each is someone’s wife or husband or sister or brother or mother or father or son or daughter. And we owe it to them to treat them as well as we possibly can. Because that is how we would want our own families to be treated.

It is a great honor to introduce you to Eva Grayzel…”

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