I am writing this letter for two reasons. I want to let my daughter, Jessica Mae Smith, know how very proud of her I am; what a wonderful mother and strong independent woman she has grown to be. I also would like to make everyone aware of oral cancer and how serious it has become. More than 35,000 Americans will be diagnosed with it this year.
Jessica was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma (oral cancer) on July 9, 2009, at the age of 24 after having whitish lesions on her tongue that would not go away; a biopsy confirmed it was cancer. July 20, she underwent her first surgery to remove the cancer at Albany Med; she then went on to have six weeks of radiation which left her mouth torn apart and raw. Upon completion of radiation, she then had her second surgery in NYC. During these months of not feeling well, intense pain, not being able to eat or drink, she somehow found the strength to continue to attend FMCC, making the dean's list for that semester and being accepted into the nursing program, worked at our local hospital, and she continued to care for her two small children and take them to the playground. She is the strongest woman I know, much stronger than I ever could be. I am so proud to have her as my daughter. So if you or someone you know has what appears to be a white or red patch of tissue in the mouth which looks like a common canker sore or discolored area, please have it checked by a professional if it does not heal within 14 days. A dentist or doctor in most cases can see or feel the precursor tissue changes or actual cancer while it's still very small or in early stages. Recent data leads us to believe the fastest-growing segment of the oral cancer population is non-smokers under the age of 50. However, if you smoke and drink, you have a 15 times greater risk of developing oral cancer. So please, if you suspect anything, don't put it off. We happened to catch Jessica's cancer in the early stages; we were blessed. I don't want to see anyone go through what she had to.
VANESSA RUSSO WILLIAMS