Being Part of The Change

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Volunteering has always been a big part of my life. In my family, it was just a natural occurrence and something that my parents instilled as a duty to make the world better around you. My family also, unfortunately, has been devastated by cancer far too many times. Leukemia, Lymphoma, Breast Cancer, pancreatic cancer, the list seems endless. Except oral cancer.

My introduction to oral cancer first came through my job as a Registered Dental Hygienist. It eventually became the hard reality faced by very dear friends through a diagnosis of oral squamous cell carcinoma for their mother. Now it was personal.

Over 45,000 Americans will be diagnosed with oral or pharyngeal cancer this year. The 5-year survival rate is currently at 57% and this number has only shown slight improvements in decades. One reason for this is that most cases are found in advanced stages. A simple non-invasive screening performed at each routine dental visit could change these statistics dramatically. Sadly, this simple screening is too often a neglected part of the dental visit.

I’ll admit, I was not always performing oral cancer screenings as I should have. It was too easy to save time and skip the screening when I already struggled to stay on schedule. Not anymore! I now know how important it is. I have now seen the devastating physical and emotional effects on not only the person facing an oral cancer diagnosis, but also their family. It was time to make something good come out of terrible circumstances.

I was blessed to be presented with the opportunity to co-chair the very first Oral Cancer Foundation Walk/Run for Awareness in the state of Wisconsin. My co-chair, Corinne, is a spitfire who turned out to be more than a great partner and event planner but also a dear friend. She’s passionate about the cause.

We have put our hearts and souls into making this inaugural event successful and it is worth every minute to know that the funds raised will supply resources for lifesaving research, it will raise awareness to educate the public on signs and symptoms that may allow their cancer to be found in the earliest stages, and it will help find ways to improve the quality of life for those who suffer daily from the unique devastating physical and emotional effects that come with cancers of the head and neck region.

October 17th is going to be a fabulous day! It will be the day to see the fruits of our labor. To steal words from the Oral Cancer Foundation itself, it will be a day to Give Oral Cancer a Voice.

I would encourage everyone to find ways to support reputable organizations that have a special meaning to you. Give your cause a voice, make something good come out of what has affected you, and share your time and your talents to make a difference in the world around you.

Most importantly, be an advocate for your own health by visiting your dentist regularly and receiving a thorough oral cancer screening. Know the signs and symptoms of head and neck cancers and seek medical attention if you experience:

· Any sore in your mouth that does not heal within 14 days

· Red or white discolorations of the tissue in your mouth or throat

· A persistent sore throat, hoarseness of voice or ear pain on one side

· A persistent feeling of a lump in your throat or trouble swallowing

· Any lump or thickening in the mouth or neck

· Unexplained numbness in the mouth

If you would like to learn more about the Oral Cancer Foundation and its mission, please visit their website.

To participate or donate to Wisconsin’s Inaugural Oral Cancer Foundation Walk/Run for Awareness visit their website.

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