Speech and Massage Therapy, Minimally Invasive Surgery Improve Outcome for Head and Neck Cancer Patient

When Nancy King was 26, excruciating pain in the floor of her mouth sent her to a local doctor seeking relief.

It took four doctors—two surgeons and two dentists—to ultimately pinpoint the source of her pain: oral cancer. Although the cancer’s specific origin was unknown at the time, King had surgery to remove the tumor then went back to her busy life as wife and mother of two small children.

“I didn’t forget about the cancer, but I just went on with life,” recalls King. She didn’t have symptoms again until 2011—at age 68—when the pain came back with force.

“It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced. I talk to God all the time, and I asked him what I should do about the pain,” says King. “I was so busy the next day I forgot about it. Then the pain came back and I said, ‘Ok, God. I hear you. I will get it checked out.’”

Her family physician referred her to Keith Casper, MD, an otolaryngologist with the University of Cincinnati Cancer Institute Comprehensive Head and Neck Cancer Center. The institute is a partnership of UC and UC Health.

Imaging tests revealed a mass—diagnosed as an adenoid cystic carcinoma arising from the salivary gland—and King began her second cancer journey.

Casper removed a three-centimeter tumor lying on King’s jawbone in April 2011. She then had follow-up radiation treatment with Bradley Huth, MD, to address residual cancer cells.

King recalls radiation as the hardest part of her treatment—her tongue swelled and she became nauseous, which made it hard to eat. She is quick to praise her medical team for helping her overcome the hurdles, though, and avoid the implantation of a feeding tube to sustain nutrition.

King also immediately began speech therapy, with speech pathologists and a massage therapist helping her to regain mobility and strength in her tongue.

“I kept biting my tongue when I talked or ate food,” she says. “Speech and massage therapy taught me exercises to increase flexibility and regain movement in my mouth. After surgery, I couldn’t slide my little finger under my tongue. Now I can move it side to side, up and down. They’ve really worked miracles in the last three months!”

Once again, King has moved on with her life and tries to keep cancer in the back of her mind. She stays busy running her floral shop—Summer Garden Florals—and spending time with her three grandchildren.

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