Perry and MaryAnn Foos say Stage 4 isn’t a death sentence

Editor’s note: Breast Cancer Awareness Month had Perry T. Foos of Niles reflecting on his wife’s journey with oral cancer. The lesson he wants to pass on to breast cancer patients, told in his own words, is, “Just because your cancer is Stage 4 doesn’t mean that it’s untreatable.”

My wife MaryAnn’s life has always been busy — she was a full-time mom, worked in a bank and took care of our household in Niles. It was a busy life for both of us and we were planning for the future.

The summer of 2015 would change the course of her life forever.

In the month of June, she had noticed what looked like a pimple under the left side of her tongue. In two weeks, it developed into what we thought was a canker sore.

The sore was not healing like it should have, so we went to her family doctor. He put her on medicine to get rid of the sore. The sore became bigger and more painful. Her doctor referred her to an ENT surgeon with a consult and biopsy.

On Sept. 10, she went for her biopsy. On Sept. 17, we got the news that the biopsy came back positive for oral cancer. Her surgeon referred her to the Cleveland Clinic.

On Oct. 7, 2015, after 10 1/2 hours of surgery, the tumor that was on the left side of the bottom part of her mouth was removed but 30 percent of her left tongue was also taken. An incision was made from ear to ear to extract 65 lymph nodes total. Six lymph nodes tested positive.

A rectangular deep tissue skin graft was done on her left wrist to rebuild her tongue. A small vein harvest was done just below the skin graft that would be for the blood supply for the part of the tongue that was constructed.

After more than two hours spent in ICU recovery to make sure the blood supply was good through the reconstruction, she was then sent to the Surgical ICU for two days. After six days, she was finally discharged to go home.

For the next seven weeks, she was recovering well. Then came the hardest part of her journey. Her oncologist for chemotherapy and her oncologist for radiation therapy said that the next seven weeks would be tough but they would be able to get rid of the cancer.

She learned that she had Stage 4A cancer. Even though the cancer had spread, they would be able to isolate and kill the large cell carcinoma. She would undergo four to six treatments of chemotherapy and 37 radiation treatments.

The treatments were grueling. She was hospitalized over Christmas.

Because of the after-effects of the treatments and her surgery, she had to retire from work at the age of 59.

But three months later, she received her first checkup. The cancer was gone. The fight was over.

Since then, she cannot eat because of the reconstruction on her tongue and the other surgical procedures done to her mouth. She has been drinking special drinks with the vitamins she needs. But she is now eating ice cream just recently.

With her other disabilities, she has managed to live with just fine. With the love and support of her husband and family along with her faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, she is now doing well. We refer to life now as “the new normal.”

Just because you have cancer doesn’t mean that you have a death sentence. It just means that you have a journey to complete, but yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

My wife and I hope that this story will help people with cancer know whatever they may face can have a happy ending. My wife survived Stage 4 cancer and is doing very well.

May our Lord bless you all.