Karen Tikalsky

First post: Jul 10, 2017 Latest post: Jan 30, 2020
I was diagnosed with skin cancer on the gum of my lower right mouth on March 20th, 2017.  It is considered head & neck cancer.  Officially the diagnosis was squamous cell carcinoma.  My dentist found the spot and advised me to go to an oral surgeon for a biopsy. The oral surgeon recommended Methodist Hospital Head & Neck Cancer Center in Omaha for treatment. Jim & I met with our surgeon on April 3rd and the diagnosis at that time was very favorable.  We all thought it had been caught very early and it was reported I would have a 90% chance of cure. This was assuming the spot on my gum had not moved to other places.

I first learned of the cancer diagnosis the night before Jacque and her family came to visit for 10 days.  Jacque & her family moved to England on Mother's Day 2017 and they love it there.  They were visiting in March prior to their 2-year assignment in England. It was great timing because I was too busy to think about myself! We were  busy enjoying our 3 grandchildren who were 1, 3 and 5 years old at the time(They all have summer birthdays so they will soon be 2, 4 & 6). I picked up my mom later that week and she was able to visit for 5 nights.  We were able to get a 4-generation photo of the 'girls' in the family on March 31st. While I was still waiting for the first surgery, my mom fell ill and I stayed with her from April 6th until April 12th when she passed away.  I am so grateful that we were able to get the 4-generation photo on March 31st.  One of my friends reported that my mom looked 'vibrant & energetic' and that was so true.  She was able to read to her great-grandchildren and interact with them while they played.

Since the original diagnosis I have had 2 surgeries.  The 1st surgery was on April 20th.  3 teeth were removed as well as 3 cm of my lower right jaw bone. (technically it was called a composite resection of the floor of the mouth buccal mucosa and a marginal mandibulectomy).  I was nicely recovering from that surgery but on May 9th I was informed that the cancer or tumor was found in the jaw bone that had been removed.  It takes 3 weeks to get pathology reports on bone.  Dr. Coughlin then scheduled another surgery for May 25th.

I am still recovering from the May 25th surgery which removed 2 additional cm of jaw bone and 51 lymph nodes in my neck.  It was considered a transplant because bone and artery were removed from my lower left leg to put into the jaw and then another skin graft was removed from my upper left thigh to move to the lower left leg area that had been taken out.

It has been more difficult to recover from the 2nd surgery because it was so extensive.  The surgery took 7.5 hours and I was in the hospital for 6 nights/7 days. It is true the leg wound caused more pain than the surgery on the jaw. However, I am not in much pain now and on a normal basis am not taking any pain pills.  Dr. Coughlin had promised me that I would look 'normal' for a wedding I was to be in 4 weeks after the 2nd surgery or June 24th.  He would have been right but I ended up with lymphedema in the area of my right jaw/neck which causes a swollen appearance.  I'll probably have to get used to this 'new look'.  My left leg/foot is also swollen from the wound.  I heard someone call it lymphedema also. There is a chance it can be 'fixed' by compression which is done by a PT. I was feeling good by the wedding however.  4 weeks seems to the magic time for recovery from the surgeries.  I was able to eat a lot of different things during the long wedding weekend and hopefully I am moving away from soft foods. Last night (July 5th) I was even able to open my mouth wide enough to eat a hot dog on a bun.  This was after removing much of the inside of the bun so I could lay the hotdog in the 'cradle'.

It is anticipated I will go through 6 weeks of radiation starting sometime around July 17th. Treatment will be 30 sessions or 5 days a week for 6 weeks. If it does start July 17th then I should be done August 25th.

We don't need much of anything right now as far as support.  I was asking friends if we could house-sit in the Omaha area if they were going on vacation in July or August.  A friend of a friend has said yes. I believe we have found a place to recover from radiation while sitting and watching the Platte River flow by for the month of August.  This was thanks to Nan & Julie who searched the area around Horseshoe Lake and found someone who said YES. (Strangers to us.... how nice is THAT!)

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