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My past week has been uneventful, I have been feeling better and eating more, which I am sure would make for a boring read. So I am going to take this week's post down a different route. Next week I will be back to writing about my weekly journey because we will be gearing up for radiation with lots of appointments.

Oral cancer can happen to anyone, but people who use tobacco are at a higher risk of developing cancer. When I speak about my experience, I know where most people are coming from that either smoke or use smokeless tobacco. I know the mindset that you have and how hard it is to get away from the nicotine.

I started using smokeless tobacco in high school and I continued using it all the way up to my diagnosis. My thought process had always been, I have nothing to worry about or I am too young to get oral cancer. I also would tell myself this will never happen to me because well it just won't happen to me. I had never known anyone or did much research on oral cancer, so nothing really deterred me from my habit. By the way, my wife tried many times to get me to stop, but I never had any worries about getting cancer from smokeless tobacco.

Now that you see where the mindset was, let's answer a few questions. If you use smokeless tobacco or smoke, how often are you doing a thorough check of the inside of your mouth for any changes, looking for white patches, sores, or lumps? Do you go to the dentist for your regular check-ups and cleaning? I did go to the dentist for regular check-ups and cleaning, but I had pushed off my appointment for about a year and a half because "I was too busy." Every time I did go to the dentist and they would do an oral cancer check, it would make me nervous. I never did a self-check of my mouth to see if there were any changes. I will let you in on a little secret, you know why I never checked, because I was scared that I would actually find something. How ironic is that?

I was "blessed" that my lesion provided me with pain in my mouth and an earache. That is one of the biggest reasons that we were able to catch it early before it began to spread. Even though I had symptoms, most lesions or spots don't cause symptoms until they've grown or spread to other tissues.

Here are some possible signs:

* A sore in the mouth that doesn't heal

* Pain in the mouth that doesn't go away

* A lump or thickening in the cheek

* A white or red patch on the gums, tongue, tonsil, or lining of the mouth

* A sore throat or a feeling that something is caught in the throat that doesn't go away

* Trouble chewing or swallowing

* Trouble moving the jaw or tongue

* Numbness of the tongue or other area of the mouth

* Voice changes

* A lump or mass in the neck

* Weight loss

* Constant bad breath

Many of these signs and symptoms can also be caused by things other than cancer. So it is critically important to see a doctor or dentist.

Let's think about this for a few minutes. You currently use smokeless tobacco or smoke cigarettes but don't see yourself quitting because you will avoid or can't get cancer. You are superhuman with superpowers and nothing can touch you. WRONG! I WAS THAT PERSON BEFORE I WAS KICKED IN THE STOMACH WITH THE DIAGNOSIS OF CANCER! YOU have a CHOICE just like I did. What will YOU choose? I decided that I was superhuman with superpowers and cancer couldn't touch me. Oh boy, how wrong was I. YOU have a simple CHOICE that can make you a lower risk of getting cancer.

Let's say you continue to use tobacco even after seeing my journey and everything I am going through. Maybe you will get lucky and nothing happens to you now, but think about when you get older. Just because you think that your invincible now, there is always a LATER.

Think about your family, spouse, kids, and friends. What impact would something like this have on them? How would you feel knowing that you could've lowered or prevented this before it happened? Think about that conversation with the most important people in your life. I don't know your medical history and I am not a doctor. I am only speaking from my experience and my thoughts. I have had these conversations and let me tell you that it's the toughest ones I have ever had. When you see the look and emotion on your spouse, children, family, and friends, these will live with you and them forever. To be asked by your kids if you are going to DIE (think about that for a minute and let me know how that sits). When you hear the diagnosis and your mind goes dark and you wonder how your family will be without you? How many important milestones that I might miss because I'm not around? Have I spent more time at work, than with my family? Have I taught my children enough to get them through life without me? What will my children's families be like? What will be my legacy? Seriously, think long and hard about this paragraph because these conversations are very tough and I wouldn't wish them upon anyone.

As cliche as this might sound, this really has given me a new perspective on life. I knew before, but now I can't tell you how important family and friends are. Work is not more important than your family and make sure they know this. Take the time to let life slow down, so you can enjoy the precious moments with the ones most important to you. Yes, work brings in money and pays the bills, I get and understand that. Will work stand by your side during the battle, care for you during the journey, pick you up when needed, and share the highs and lows that come with what your going through. The answer is NO. I am not saying not to work, what I am saying is to make sure you spend time with the people that matter the most. Set a time where you shut it down every day, take vacations, be spontaneous, and make memories. Make sure at the end of the day that you don't look back and say "Wow, I wish I would've spent more time with my loved ones."

There is one message that I can 100% say with confidence is that the 30-60 minutes of pleasure you get from smokeless tobacco or cigarettes is not worth the long term affects that go with it. You can't undo the past, but you can change the future with the decisions you make.

If you get cancer, which it doesn't have to be oral cancer, there are always chances that there will be a reoccurrence or a development of another cancer. Unfortunately, that will be in the back of my mind for the rest of my life. I will have to go for check-ups throughout my life to make sure I don't have a relapse or develop new cancer. My doctors have told me that the chances for relapse are the highest in the first year and that the percentages go down every year after, so I will have to get PET scans every 3 months for the first year.

Some of the information above was taken from the American Cancer Society, which I am attaching some PDF's from their website. These PDF's have great information that talks about all aspects of head and neck cancer. If you or someone you know does tobacco, these are great tools for them to get informed.

What really surprises me is that hearing from someone first hand and what the journey looks like still has some people not wanting to quit. I am not your parent, spouse, or child, so the only perspective I can offer you is through my current experience. I can't tell you how much I wish I had someone tell me about this earlier so that I didn't have to go through the OH SHIT moment of hearing the news that I have CANCER. That is one of the scariest pieces of news to receive knowing I could've possibly lowered my chances of getting it. TRUST me when I say this "You don't want that OH SHIT moment." I have been through the struggles of using tobacco, so I am not some person trying to speak about something I have no idea about.

Please use this as your WAKE UP call. You may think your invincible, but let me tell you that you're WRONG. Nobody is invincible to cancer, nor does cancer associate itself with age, color, nationality, religion, political view, etc. You can STOP the cycle by putting the tobacco down.

I wish that I could turn back time and tell my younger self to never start using tobacco, but that's not going to happen. I accept the choices I have made, which have given me the opportunity to share my journey with others so that hopefully it prevents you or someone that you know from following the same path. I almost let this diagnosis make me ashamed to share my journey because of my tobacco use. I could hear all the I told you so's from people after informing everyone about my cancer diagnosis, but that's far from what happened. I am so happy that I can use my experience as a platform to spread the word about this type of cancer, my current journey with oral cancer, tobacco use, and to be able to provide support to anyone going through any of this. I am an open book, so if you have questions or need to talk, please don't hesitate to let me know.

Below is the link to the American Cancer Society website and it takes you to the head and neck section so that you don't have to search it out on your own. They have different sections that are embedded in this category, they are listed below:

* About Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer

* Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention

* Early detection, diagnosis, and staging

* Treating Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer

* After Treatment

I can only discuss what I experienced, I am not a doctor or dentist, so if you have medical questions or issues with your health, please seek out a medical professional.


ACS about Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer
Download • 128KB

ACS about Oral and Oropharyngeal Cancer
Download • 128KB

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