I was diagnosed with oral cancer just a few days a;er
election night in November 2012. I was extremely
fortunate that my cancer was caught early, at stage 1. ;is
meant that the only treatment I needed was surgery to
remove the tumor and that my outlook is very good. My
experience taught me that it is vital that you pay attention
to what your body is telling you and that you don’t delay
getting anything unusual checked out.
It was the fall of 2012 when I noticed what seemed like
a blister on my tongue that didn’t heal quickly. I tried
a number of topical treatments, but it just wasn’t going
away so my dentist sent me to an oral surgeon to have
I received the biopsy results at an extremely stressful
time—seven days a;er election night, which was during
the 11 days it took to complete the vote count for my
district, the 2nd Congressional District of Arizona.
I immediately contacted the University of Arizona
Cancer Center in Tucson, which is one of the country’s
premier cancer centers. Fortunately, the center had
recently established an ENT [ear, nose, and throat] team
specializing in the treatment of cancers like mine, so I felt
I was in the best place possible.
;e medical team told me that because my cancer had
been caught at an early stage, I should have surgery as
soon as possible and that I would need regular follow-up
visits. My tumor was removed just before ;anksgiving,
and I was fully recovered in time to be sworn into my ;rst
full term in Congress on Jan. 3, 2013.
For the ;rst year a;er surgery, I had follow-ups with
my ENT oncologist at the University of Arizona Cancer
Center every four weeks, but now it is every eight weeks.
My doctors say we could probably go longer between
visits, but to be on the safe side they want to continue with
this schedule. ;ey also tell me that if anything changes at
all I should call and be seen right away, so I keep a pretty
constant watch on what’s going on. Every now and again, if
I bite my tongue or have a little sore, I’ll go and be checked,
but it has always turned out to be nothing.
One of the things that helped me to get through my
experience, other than my fantastic specialty medical
team, was the enormous support I got from my wife, my
children, my grandkids, and my friends. Sometimes it
is hard to ask for help or to accept it, but when you are
dealing with a disease like cancer, you really can’t hold
back—you just have to welcome the support, and I got
plenty of it.
By sharing my story, I hope to remind everyone, in
particular my colleagues in Congress, that cancer is
not an abstract national problem but something that
can happen to anybody in the blink of an eye. We are
all susceptible. I tend to be kind of stoic, but the truth
is that inside I was thinking, is this going to be the
beginning of the end? What I learned, though, was that
our knowledge about cancer is growing and we have so
much good research, and more to come, that I hope it is
the beginning of pathways to prevention, treatment, and
cure. But to achieve these goals, we need to stay on the
cutting edge, and to do this we need more funding for the
National Institutes of Health.
26 AACR Cancer Progress Report 2014
FREE OF ORAL CANCER THANKS TO