Jawbone Replacement

I read a study conducted by a team of doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Hospital in 2015. The study analyzed the link between depression and survival rate as well as the potential link to disease recurrence. They found depressed head and neck cancer patients three-and-one-half times less likely to survive and have thirty percent higher recurrence risk. I found this particularly interesting because, in 2004, I researched and wrote my graduate thesis on “The Power of Hope”. I am fully aware of how fortunate I am. I savor every moment of every day and constantly reflect on the fact that I am one of the lucky ones as I have lost both family members and treasured friends to this dreadful disease.

My personal belief of “The Power of Hope” was tested again in August 2020, when at age 39, my jawbone fractured. At the time, I thought it was another jawbone infection since I have had countless infections over the years caused by the effects of radiation treatments and floating deteriorating pieces of the jawbone. Following an x-ray, I was advised that I had a severe pathological jawbone fracture and my new team of surgeons at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital clearly detailed another extremely complicated surgical procedure that would be necessary.

In October 2020, I had a Fibula Free Flap Jawbone Replacement surgery and during the ensuing 12 ½ -hour surgery had 95 percent of my fractured lower jawbone removed and the removal of the fibula bone, veins, and tissue from one leg for use in the replacement of my jawbone. While still in the hospital recovering, I returned to the OR for stomach tube insertion surgery and after three and a half weeks was released from the hospital to return home to my family.

Upon returning home, I had to learn how to walk and speak again, swallow liquids, and been limited to a predominately liquid and soft food diet for the ensuing eleven months. I will return to MSKCC for dental implants in a few weeks. I am grateful for my exceptional medical care, as well as the support of my family and friends. I am excited for what the future holds both personally and professionally and am fully aware of how fortunate I am.

I savor every moment of each day and constantly reflect on the fact that I am one of the lucky ones. My message to anyone going through a similar physically painful and emotionally stressful time while confronting any type of cancer is to never give up. Never allow yourself to lose hope as I am absolutely convinced based on my personal experience that your mental outlook directly impacts your physical well-being.