by Aslam Khan
Posted on November 20, 2017 12:11PM
It has been about two weeks since a mouth ulcer on my cheek continued to persist despite medication. The ulcer would decrease and then increase in size again. Since my mom had cancer, I was aware of the potential risk of a persistent ulcer being cancerous and decided to pursue further. I immediately consulted a doctor about my concerns with mouth ulcer and he immediately suggested a biopsy. When the biopsy results arrived my doctor asked me to meet him, I was suspicious that something was wrong. I was informed that I was diagnosed with mouth cancer, a particular type called squamous cell carcinoma of buccal mucossa(cheek). The diagnosis shook me to the core, I found it difficult to accept my diagnosis as I was absoultely fit and healthy. I ran about 10 kms on a regular basis, I was actively involved in karate and cross fit training. However I should admit that I have been a regular smoker.
Revealing the news to my family
The most difficult part was sharing the news of my cancer diagnosis with family my wife and children. I called up my mother-in-law to ensure that there is some support in helping my wife in coming to terms with this devastating news. I revealed to them that I had been diagnosed with cancer and it was devastating news for everyone involved in my life. My wife asked me not to worry and assured that we will fight it together, no matter how difficult the challenges ahead of us would be. We kept strong faith in God and started planning for the treatment.
Silver lining of the cloud
The first positive point was that my biopsy report read “Superficially infiltrating squamous cell carcinoma”, which means that the diagnosis was done in a very early stage. Hence, the chances of survival and curability were very high.
Secondly, I had corporate medical insurance. Hence, I had to bear minimal cost of treatment from my pocket. I had to pay only for those charges that were not covered by the insurance, for example, non-medical charges.
My company was flexible and allowed me to work from home and I had the full support of my managers and superiors. It would have been immensely challenging and difficult to fight cancer had I not received this sort of support.
I was operated upon to remove the tumor and the cheek was reconstructed. I lost four teeth from the affected side and also a part of my gums. I had to stay in the hospital for about 4 days. I was on a liquid diet for about 10 days and then started with semi solid food. Recovery was quick and I joined office in two weeks time. However, then came in the histopathology report. Though all the margins of the specimen removed in the operation were clear, the margins were close. So, I was suggested to go through 30 sessions of radiation therapy. Luckily, due to early diagnosis, the cancer didn’t spread to the lymph nodes, and I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy.
Radiation therapy is a different ball game altogether. Surgery was not a big deal when compared to radiation to my mouth and I was recovering fine from surgery. My radiation sessions started in December 2016, 5 sessions a week, the weekends off for recovery. After 15 sessions or so, the radiation side effects started showing up. The side-effects were really bad in my case (It is not necessary that everyone will experience similar outcomes from radiaiton). I had painful mouth sores and was unable to open my mouth, eating became a problem and eventually resulted in poor nutrition. This resulted in severe weight loss and weakness.
I thought of giving up the last few sessions of radiation due to painful side effects, but my wife and kids supported me and encouraged me to complete the treatment. I was so happy when I managed to complete my treatment. One month after all the radiation sessions were completed, side effects started gradually reducing. I’m about 10 months out of radiation now and things are quite normal. No doubt the treatment was tough and so was the recovery but it was a pain necessary as my last scan turned out to be normal. I believe I got lucky as my cancer was detected quite early.
Getting back to normal life
I thank God for giving me one more chance to spend a few more years in this world. Though thoughts of recurrence trouble me at times, I’ve decided to go back to living and enjoying a normal life. I’m working full time, I’ve started running again, and I’m packing my bags to go on a vacation to my native place, a small and remote village in Jammu & Kashmir. Though there are a few adjustments, I’m happy and greateful to be alive and do more for my family and friends.
Lessons that I learnt in my journey of cancer
During my fight against cancer, I met many other cancer survivors. Here’s what I’ve learnt from my experience:
Early diagnosis of any kind of cancer is the key to improve the chances of survival. In addition, the course of treatment is easier and less painful for the cancers detected in early stages. In my case, I didn’t have to go through chemotherapy as the cancer hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes.
Financial independence is necessary to get the best of the best treatment. As I was insured, I was able to get the best and on-time treatment.
Support from my family, especially my wife, helped me go through this difficult phase of life. Family support is very important and plays an important role to keep you strong and keep your spirits high.
Resilence and Willpower:
At the end of it, it’s the patient who has to go through the treatment and bear the side effects. The patients will to fight cancer and come out of it is very important. Remember that it’s a difficult phase, however, it’s a temporary one. There will be good days and bad days during treatment but once the treatment is over, everything starts falling in place slowly and steadily.
I am sure once you survive cancer you will have more gratitude for your life. I am a happier and better person after I overcame cancer. I wish you all the best and pray that you overcome your challenges too.