Nineteen years ago, my dentist saved my life. I am a three-time oral cancer survivor, accidental motivational speaker, cancer awareness advocate and Founder of DYP, Discovering Your Power, Your Way. This is my story.
In 2001 during a routine check-up, my dentist, Dr. Sacks, discovered small white spots on the right side of my tongue called leukoplakia during an oral cancer screening. Who knew an oral cancer screening was a thing? A benign biopsy and a simple surgery removing the spots was a blip on the radar in my life. I was young and naive, never smoked, barely drank, and had no family history of oral cancer. This small and insignificant event filled only a page or two in my life at most, hardly a chapter. Little did I know the chapters would come later.
In 2007, I had my first cancer diagnosis. Without hesitation, the doctor announced “It’s a squamous cell tumor and has to be removed. No need to biopsy.” I spent one night in the hospital and no follow-up treatment. In hindsight, a walk in the park. My kids were 6 months and 2 years old at the time.
In 2011, my cancer returned with a vengeance. I received the diagnosis the day before going on a Disney cruise with my family. In fact, my doctor broke the news to me while getting manicures and pedicures with my daughters who were now 5 and 7 years old. Imagine setting sail on the happiest ship on earth with friends, family and a very aggressive tumor growing in my mouth. It felt like a ticking time bomb. When I returned, I underwent an 11-hour surgery at UCLA, half of my tongue was removed and reconstructed with muscles, tissues, and arteries from my forearm (freckles and all). One grueling week spent in the hospital with a tracheotomy and a feeding tube in my nose. Followed-up by over 3 months of simultaneous chemotherapy and radiation.
No rest for the weary. The surgeons removed another tumor from my jugular vein only one year later in 2012. Another 3 exhausting months of treatment.
As of January 22, 2018, it has been over 7 years since any sign of disease, and I am considered cured. Woohoo!!!!
Every day I have tremendous gratitude for my life and the many blessings in it, but I’m not going to lie, nothing was worth the cancer…nothing was worth the permanent scars and collateral damage of my illness. This includes a scar running from my lower lip, down my chin and wrapping around my neck, the removal of a quarter of my teeth, a speech impediment, eating challenges, and dental challenges. Don’t even get me started with the emotional scars :), but I’m better than good and figuring it out one day at a time. With healing comes peace.
I’d like to share with you how I became an accident motivational speaker. After all, my speech impediment doesn’t exactly make me the poster child for this field. Several years ago, I spoke about “Celebrating Life” at a fundraiser which led to another event and another. At this point, I had to think about my message. Was this just about being a cancer survivor, which is a big deal because so many people don’t make it, or is it more? I read the journals I kept when I was ill, and page by page as I relived my experience, my message became crystal clear. This wasn’t about the diagnosis, the surgery, the side effects, the pain, or the emotions. My journals documented the power I discovered to get through this nightmare…the power of my medical team, the power of family and friends, the power of shaving my own head when I was losing my hair, the power of the Food Channel when I couldn’t eat, the power of a crystal, the power of empathizing over a fellow patient, the power of acceptance, the power of faith, the power of a nutrition plan, the power of my support group, the power of hypnotherapy, the power of crying and laughing, and SO MUCH MORE!!!! Power kept me involved in the process and not just a bystander going through the motions of cancer life. At that moment, the idea of helping others discover their personal power was born.
We all go through something, whether it’s illness, relationship challenges, financial struggles, emotional problems, a pandemic, civil unrest or perhaps the daily grind is getting the best of us. Are we aware of who or what we can count on to help us get through it? I realize the power which works for me may be different than the power which works for you, but through my cancer journey, I’ve learned and truly believe our power is unlimited, everywhere, and completely accessible if we allow ourselves to be open to the possibilities. We do NOT have to be strong to have power and no one is powerless. “ I have power ” is my daily mantra, and I am committed and passionate about helping others discover their own power every day.
To learn more visit Joana’s website: https://www.dypyourway.com/
Follow Joana on Instagram: https://instagram.com/joanadyp
Follow Joana on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JoanaDYP/