SLP Molly Cote has helped her husband cope with swallowing changes resulting from tongue cancer.
The doctor rolled back in his chair, gently shut the door, looked at my husband and said, "You have a malignant squamous cell carcinoma on the base of your tongue." My mind started racing and my first thought was, "Is my 42-year-old husband going to need a glossectomy?" Then the doctor counseled us about the next steps and the most likely treatment protocol. He told us treatment had changed and now this type of head and neck cancer is often treated with chemotherapy and radiation. Although I was relieved that a glossectomy didn't look likely, I knew we were in for some serious trials.
During the next month we met with doctor after doctor and planned out the treatment. Because I hadn't worked with a large number of head and neck cancer patients, I began my research. The first thing I did was join ASHA's Special Interest Group 13, Swallowing and Swallowing Disorders, so I could access the latest information on this topic. Additionally, I contacted friends and colleagues from North Carolina to Texas to glean wisdom. Everyone I reached out to responded with kindness, compassion and the thing I most desired—information to help my husband.
Once treatment began, I had a pretty good intellectual grasp on what to expect and what needed to be done. However, I wasn't prepared for the emotional aspect of "treating" my own husband. I quickly realized how different working with a patient was from living through each moment of the struggle. I now have a better understanding of our patients' needs when facing swallowing challenges. Swallowing difficulties don't just affect the patient, they affect the entire family. The family dinners that always had been a time of joy in our household became trials.
Despite extreme pain, my husband fought through the treatments and remained on an oral diet. Every time he attempted to eat something I modified the texture to make it palatable and easy for him to swallow. Each day seemed to bring a new experience, both good and bad. He was so excited the day he was able to actually taste the chocolate in his weight-gain shake. We have a long road ahead of us but I am hopeful.
This experience has shown me the impact our profession has on lives. My husband is doing better than most patients who undergo this type of treatment and all of the doctors are amazed by his progress. My training and knowledge definitely helped me to care for my husband.