My 37-year-old cousin, who is like a sister to me, and a rock I've leaned on during some tough educational challenges with my son, is currently fighting mouth cancer for the 4th time in 3 1/2 years. In December 2008, the doctors peeled back the skin under her mouth/chin and took out cancer cells and 36 lymph nodes. She had to have a skin graft with tissue from her thigh. They were confident they got all of it. In December 2009, she had a similar surgery. It was a new cancer, not a spread of the previous one. They were confident they got all of it. In December 2011, it was on her tongue (the previous two were the floor of her mouth, and they went in from underneath). They removed roughly 1/3 of her tongue. They were confident they got all of it.
This summer, they found a spread. This was the first time that it wasn't a new cancer. They mouth cancer has found ways to get to other parts of her body. They cut into her neck and removed 2 lumps and several lymph nodes. A few weeks ago, they did a facial mold in order to make a face mask. They also put in a feeding tube and a port for chemo treatments. Today she is undergoing her 10th radiation treatment. Her radiation treatments began on July 30th and will last for 7 straight weeks, Monday through Friday. She is entirely immobile during the treatments, which thankfully only last about 30 minutes. That first day she also went through a full day of chemo treatments. She will also receive full day chemo treatments on August 20th and September 10th. She is expected to lose her hair (which will grow back, of course), endure 2nd and 3rd degree burns in her throat (which will eventually heal), permanently lose her salivary gland, and suffer either a partial permanent hearing loss or permanent ringing in the ears.
I repeat. She is 37 (will turn 38 on Monday). She is currently a professor (though she'll miss this entire fall semester) at Illinois State University, teaching future Special Education teachers. She is a former Special Education teacher, grade school principal, and Special Education Administrator (unrelated side note: her former employer was Jason Isringhausen's alma mater, Southwestern School District in Brighton, Illinois). She loves, loves, loves teaching. Loves it. When the cancer was found again this summer she was emphatic that she wouldn't let them take anymore of her tongue. She already undergoes speech therapy due to the December 2011 surgery.
She defines herself by her teaching and insists she's never had a day where she went home and told herself it was a bad day teaching. She is witty, funny, smart, and caring. I love her to pieces and I think it sucks that at such a young age she is already having to weigh quality of life versus extension of life types of questions. Yes, cancer sucks. Cancer is vile. F cancer.