Surviving cancer is rarely an easy journey, but for Deirdre Lund, it’s been a particularly complicated road of both setbacks and hope.
The 57-year-old was diagnosed with oral cancer in May 2009. The news came at an especially vulnerable time for Deirdre, who was living away from her California home and was unemployed and without medical insurance.
Deirdre’s treatment at UW Medical Center included a grueling 16-hour surgery to remove her jawbone, along with all of her lower teeth and the floor of her mouth on the affected side. Her jaw was reconstructed with her fibula (calf bone) and tissue from her neck, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
While the treatment left her free of cancer, it also left her with initial speech and swallowing difficulty. She still cannot eat, taste or chew, talk for long periods due to dry mouth, or hear in her left ear. The fibula removal caused nerve damage in her leg, recently repaired through another surgery.
Depressed, disfigured and desperate for an advocate, Deirdre turned to the Survivorship Program.
“I felt so overwhelmed and I didn’t know how I was going to survive or even if I wanted to,” she said.
She credits the Survivorship Program staff with helping her find resources and work through her complex needs, one by one.
“They’re just wonderful. They really connected me back to life after my surgery and treatment,” Deirdre said. “I was isolated and didn’t know what to do. They got me back on the road.”
Her path to recovery included treatment for depression; participation in the Exercise and Thrive and SMART (stress management and relaxation training) programs; physical therapy for lymphedema; pain management; and osteoporosis treatment to enable dental implants one day. Since Deirdre’s last job required extensive talking, vocational retraining is on the horizon.
“The Survivorship Program has helped me realize that I am a survivor,” she said. “I’m still dealing with a lot of issues, but I don’t have cancer anymore. There was a time when I cried all of the time, but now I’m definitely much stronger emotionally. In the last few months, I’ve made incredible progress.”