I am JC. I am strongheart, and Cancer saved my life

I AM MORE THAN CANCER

God really heard my prayers and answered them in the most unusual way.

It all started as a very painful, small white spot on my tongue. I went to my primary care doctor, and after being puzzled, she suggested that I see the dentist. So I did. The dentist, also puzzled and unsure what it was, then suggested that I see an oral surgeon. So, again, I did just that, but I still couldn’t get an answer. The oral surgeon being unable to help me, then suggested maybe I needed to see an ENT, so I did that too! And guess what? Two different ENTs from that office still could not help me or figure it out. None of the doctors could tell me what was wrong. This went on for several months.

I was told it was an infection, given medication after medication, but nothing was working. One day, I went back and asked flat out. I said, “doc, do you think this could be cancer?” To my question, he responded confidently, “No way! You’re too young for cancer!” So I left it at that, but it had gotten a lot worse over the months. The pain had become unbearable. It was getting difficult to eat and even to talk. We decided to see one more doctor.

Well, that day arrived, and soon, everything was about to change. After a 5 minute exam, the doctor told me “I’m sorry to tell you this, but that’s definitely cancer.”

Everything went dark. I had what? I couldn’t even process what was being said to me! I asked months ago if it could be cancer, and I was told no, it wasn’t! He then told me I had been misdiagnosed, and I needed a biopsy right away.

Shortly after this, I went in and had the biopsy done. After I awoke from anesthesia, I remember not knowing what was going on. However, the looks on my family’s faces said it all. That’s when the doctor came over to me and told me it was really bad. He informed me that I had a very aggressive form of squamous cell carcinoma and that it was already beyond stage 4 and had metastasized to the lymph nodes in my neck. The chances I’d pull through this were slim and now time was running out and something had to be done immediately.

We met him again a week later to discuss the plan for treatment/surgery, but when we got there, he broke the news to me and my family that he didn’t think I’d be able to successfully complete treatment necessary to save my life because I was so obese the radiation would not get through my neck. He said he didn’t feel comfortable performing this extreme operation on me considering the likelihood of me making it was so low. He then suggested I get my affairs in order and look into palliative care. I was just given a death sentence.

Confusion and dread do not even begin to describe the emotions I felt. Suddenly I felt so small, and the world felt so big. I felt like I was in a nightmare. Everything was spinning. This was the end, or so I thought.

A close friend of mine told me I should seek a hospital in Manhattan, so I did some research, and I found another hospital. Coincidentally, they were rated to be one of the top cancer hospitals in the country, often having patients come in from all across the world.

I made my appointment and went to see them, unsure of whether or not they were going to tell me the same fate. But to my surprise, they seemed a bit more optimistic, but they also told me the hard truth that I wasn’t prepared to hear yet, that if I had ANY chance to survive, I’d have to have my ENTIRE tongue removed! Which is called a total glossectomy. He then said I’d also have to have a mandibulotomy because my mouth was so small. That’s where they saw your jaw bone in half with a small electric saw to open your jaw like a door so they could have easier access to the tongue. He also told me I’d need a neck dissection because of the cancer that had spread to my neck. That’s where they cut open your whole neck side to side to remove the cancerous lymph nodes. I’d also need a forearm flap reconstruction. That’s where they take skin and nerves from your forearm to build a “new tongue” Although the new tongue is there, it has no movement and no feeling. It’s just there to take up the empty space. I was then told I’d also need a trach tube inserted into my neck so I could breathe since my nose wasn’t going to work ever again after this surgery. I’d also need a feeding tube inserted into my stomach and this would remain there for the rest of my life, as I’d never be able to eat food again. Then last but not least, he warned me that despite maximal therapy and surgery, I’d only have about a 30% chance to survive the next 5 years as my cancer was extremely aggressive. After hearing all he had just said to me, I swear I went deaf to the world around me. I was completely numb. I felt my life was over… it had to be over… even if I survived, I wouldn’t want to live this way.

Fast forward to July 29, 2016, not even a week after my 32nd birthday. It was the day of my surgery. A 19-hour surgery, but I went through with it. Not even 2 weeks after my surgery, I suddenly couldn’t breathe. My trach tube got plugged up with tissue, and I couldn’t speak and tell anyone I was in trouble. I turned blue, blacked out, and my heart stopped. They did immediate CPR, which in turn broke my ribs, punctured, and collapsed my lung. After that, an emergency chest tube had to be put in. My heart stopped three times but finally started again after the third try. They told my family that I might not wake up or If I did, I’d most likely have some brain damage from how long I was without oxygen. 

Three days later, I woke up with not one memory of what happened. I woke up in good spirits and had no damage from what had happened. Thus the name strongheart was born! The next several months were extremely difficult. I was so heavy. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t speak. I was in a wheelchair. I was so depressed, alone, and miserable. All I wanted was to be normal again, to feel better. To live my life. The life that I so foolishly took for granted all these years. I felt hopeless.

I began to seek God and pray even though at that time I wasn’t really a believer, but I felt I had nothing to lose. so I prayed every day. And soon, slowly but surely, I noticed small miracles beginning to happen like being told I’d never breathe on my own again, and that I’d have my trach for life. But suddenly, my nose opened and I could breathe! I ripped the trach right out of my neck and threw it out the window as I was driving! I was told I’d never breathe on my own again, but I was! God’s first blessing!

Soon after that, I began to drink liquids. I taught myself and practiced. I also puzzled the doctors because they couldn’t figure out how I was drinking and not aspirating. Since I had no tongue, nothing was covering my airway when liquids went down, but I did it! I practiced until I wasn’t even using the feeding tube anymore. And that’s when I said, “Hey, no more feeding tube. Screw that!” And I pulled it out myself! Yes, I was finally breaking free from these chains that cancer was holding me down by! So I kept praying and the more I prayed and had faith in God’s plan, the more miracles started to happen.

Within months, my weight was FALLING off. I could breathe again! I could even speak again! And I could sustain my own nutrition without a feeding tube! I had come past all the odds already! The weight kept dropping and dropping.

Finally, here I am. Two years later from my heaviest at almost 700 lbs. I went from an obese, sad, miserable, depressed, angry, suicidal drug user who had cancer to a heathy, strong, happy, sober, humble, God-fearing individual, now 170 lbs! YES! God had really heard my prayers and answered in the most unusual way.

He allowed me to battle cancer to make me appreciate all that I took for granted in my life. To make me see for myself that I was stronger than I ever believed. To use me as a tool to help others, to make them see that they too are stronger than they believe. To be a light to those facing their darkest days. To be an inspiration to those who think it can’t get any worse. God chose me as his soldier, to share the message that sometimes he allows our hearts to be broken so that new light can shine in and eradicate the darkness that was taking over. To make others see, that no matter what we go through, you must remember this life is a blessing! And all of the struggles we’ve faced were only just lessons! 

In my darkest days, I finally saw the light of GOD and found my true purpose. I was reborn. I had to die a little in order to learn to appreciate how it felt to truly live, and I’m ALIVE for the very first time in my life. GLORY BE TO GOD ALMIGHTY.

I am JC. I am #strongheart, and Cancer saved my life! 

You can check out my Facebook blog at strongheartnation23follow my journey on my Instagram account, kushhdreamz, or search my name to read all my articles.

ABOUT Jen

Bio

  • Long Island

Diagnosis

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Primary Treatment

  • Surgery

Primary Cancer Center

  • Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

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