Abbotsford hospital fundraising for cancer dental care
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2019 5:37PM PDT Last Updated Wednesday, October 16, 2019 7:01PM PDT
ABBOTSFORD, B.C. - An oral cancer survivor from B.C. is speaking out to bolster a fundraising campaign to install a new dental suite for cancer patients at Abbotsford Regional Hospital.
Rosalyn Salanguit survived stage four cancer in her tongue, and despite doctors' predictions that she would never talk again or eat without a feeding tube she's sharing her story in her own words to bring more attention and resources to fighting the disease.
"When your cancer journey is written right on your face, you have to adapt really, really fast," she said, crediting her harrowing journey with connecting her with an incredible community of survivors.
Salanguit was 34 when she bit her tongue and the resulting sore wouldn't heal. After weeks of different prescriptions from her doctor that didn't help, she went to a dentist. Following an exam and biopsy, she was diagnosed with oral cancer just after her 35th birthday.
She went in for surgery, where doctors removed half of her tongue and made an incision down her neck to remove cancer that had spread to her lymph nodes.
"They had to remove my entire left side. So everything you see before my throat and everything you see behind my throat."
She took pictures to document her journey, and looks back on them now for a reminder of how strong she is.
"For other people who literally lost their voice because they lost their tongue, or because they lost their jaw … I feel my purpose now is to be their voice," Salanguit said.
Risk factors for oral cancer include heavy smoking, drinking and having the human papillomavirus (HPV). Salanguit had none of those.
As fewer and fewer people smoke, the demographics of the disease are shifting, explained oral-maxillofacial surgeon Dr. Akash Villing.
Younger people are making up more of the oral cancer patient population for what was once known as an "old man's" disease. And the problem is that oral cancer diagnosis often happens late, leading to poor survival rates.
"The one unique part about oral cancer is the aggressiveness of it, and the treatments often lead to disfiguring results," Villing said.
There's a backlog of cancer patients trying to access dental care in the province, according to Sarah Roth with the BC Cancer Foundation.
That's why the BC Cancer Foundation has partnered with BC Cancer Abbotsford to build a two-chair dental suite so patients who live in the Fraser Valley won't have to travel as far to existing centres in Surrey and Vancouver.
"This dental suite will help patients with a variety of cancers, not just oral cancer," Roth said.
That's because because maintaining oral health during cancer treatment is incredibly important because cancer patients can't risk compromising their immune systems.
With files from CTV News Vancouver's Angela Jung