Letter to the Editor: Don't judge a book by its cover

Don’t judge a book by its cover

Life throws a lot of obstacles in your way. Amid the pandemic, I was unaware that I was actually very sick and not with COVID. After months of having trouble eating and losing weight, I was diagnosed with stage 4 tongue cancer — a diagnosis I never heard of before and one that took four doctors to uncover, no doubt allowing cancer to aggressively progress. I felt something was wrong, yet every doctor I asked to examine what was a small growth on my tongue, all said it was nothing.

Head and neck cancers comprise a smaller percent of cancers and tend to receive less coverage — physician focus doesn’t usually start until there is an easily detected issue. There’s also a stigma profiling the typical oral cancer patient as older men who smoke and drink. Many patients, including myself, rarely drink and never smoked. With no family history of head and neck cancer, there I was at the age of 45 with advanced stage cancer facing the possibility of never speaking or eating normally again.

April was Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Month. I encourage you, if you feel your health is suffering or something feels wrong, push doctors to pay attention, seek multiple options, request tests are performed, trust your gut. More importantly, I’m looking to all the ear, nose and throat doctors, dentists and oral surgeons in Fairfield and beyond imploring you to take a second look, order a biopsy, request a scan, even if the patient does not fit who you feel is a typical patient. Sometimes the story does not match the cover of the book.

I’m four months post-surgery, radiation and chemotherapy and I’m cancer free. Beating cancer was possible because the fourth ENT doctor I saw took one look at me and said we have a problem and referred me to an amazing oncology and surgical team that saved my life. I may not be able to eat pizza or my favorite sesame bagels anymore but ice cream makes a great dinner!

For info and support: www.spohnc.org

Oral Cancer Screening Steps: www.sixstepscreening.org

Susan Joseph Smith, Fairfield