Resilience: the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. We hear it a lot these days. For us, it’s especially true when we see stories like Meghan’s and the one you’re about to read below.
The following story was shared with us by oral cancer survivor, Devin Koslap. Devin started using Rx Canna Care products (topicals and tinctures) in 2016 after searching for alternative methods for addressing side effects from her cancer treatment. In her words: “we never know what we are capable of until we have no other choice.” Thank you Devin for sharing your story. We are incredibly inspired!
Growing up we are always told to enjoy our youth, because one day our bodies will turn against us, making life lose the enjoyable qualities we tend to take advantage of. Of course, many of us hear this and it falls on deaf ears. We continue to move through life with the mindset of, “Oh it will never happen to me.” Then, when it inevitably does, we are blindsided, maybe even angry that nobody warned us, or shocked that the impossible somehow became possible.
The “C” Word
August 4th, 2015 was that inevitable day for me. I was working full time as an occupational therapist.
Every day I worked to rehabilitate people with traumatic brain injuries, helping them to relearn the most basic skills of daily life. I saw young people, my age, regularly lose everything, and still I walked around in an invisible bubble of invincibility. Unfortunately for me, my bubble was popped by the “C” word that no one ever wants to hear. I was diagnosed with cancer: Stage 4T squamous cell carcinoma of the base of the tongue, soft palate, throat and right tonsil, a cancer most commonly found in males, long term tobacco users and middle aged people with untreated HPV. I, as a 26 year old, HPV negative, female, nonsmoker, was in the .01% of the population expected to be diagnosed with a cancer like this.
My tumor, who we affectionately named “Clyde” at the start of my journey, had likely been growing inside me for the better part of 10 years, never showing himself until he ran out room and invaded my tonsil. We were immediately surrounded by the strongest support system we could ask for who lovingly began the #DevinStrongteam, organizing help in every form possible to help my family and I get through.
Due to the size and complexity of my tumor, my surgeon felt that beginning with surgery was the best course of treatment, followed by intense radiation and possible chemotherapy depending on lymph node involvement. There were no other options, without this treatment I would not survive the next few months, and with the treatment, I was told I may never speak or swallow again. I would have a tracheostomy placed in my neck to allow me to breathe and a feeding tube as well.
Surgery, Radiation, and the Brutal Side Effects
My surgery lasted around 10 hours, during which my surgeon robotically removed my tumor, along with my tonsils, half of my tongue and soft palate. A plastic surgeon then reconstructed the area using a skin flap and artery from my left forearm. They also removed about 2 dozen lymph nodes from my neck, all of which were thankfully negative, removing the need for chemotherapy from the equation.
Two months later I began radiation therapy, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. Prior to this I had healed well, I was eating, talking, the trach was removed and my pain was minimal. Unfortunately, the side effects of treatment proved to be worse than imaginable. By the end of my tenth treatment, I was heavily impacted by bouts of fatigue, nausea, and hot flashes. Additionally, I lost my sense of taste completely, my mouth erupted in sores an eighth of an inch thick on nearly every possible surface, and my saliva became thick like mucus, causing me to choke and cough regularly.
Visible Side Effects from Cancer Treatment
On the outside, the skin on my face and neck became dry and red, similar to a sunburn. The hair along the back of my neckline thinned and fell out, leaving me with a strip about an inch and a half thick with no hair. Also, the lower half of my face became affected by lymphedema, swelling up my cheeks and my jawline, as well as the inside of my mouth. I was unable to eat or swallow anything but water, becoming completely dependent on my feeding tube for about 7 months in total, and my speech was often unintelligible.
Needless to say, healing took longer than the treatments themselves. I began rigorous physical and speech therapy to help manage the swelling in my face, as well as losses in speech, swallowing, and the mobility of my neck and shoulder. The radiation had damaged both some nerves and muscles.
My scars were red, hypersensitive, and stiff, further affecting my ability to move and drastically changing my pre-cancer appearance. We spent most of our time consulting with the best doctors and past patients to find ways to bring me relief and comfort. Unfortunately most solutions involved additional medications, increasing the doses on current ones, or no solution existed.
Spring of 2016 came around and I was continuing to heal, albeit slower than anticipated. My saliva was still thick during the day, while at the same time my mouth was too dry to break down even the moistest foods, making eating nearly impossible. My taste was minimal, and my scars and fibrotic muscles continued to cause pain and discomfort. At the same time, a classmate of mine from Misericordia University was going through her own journey with breast cancer.
Meghan was posting blogs regularly and had begun to talk about an oil that was helping her to manage her chemotherapy side effects. I was familiar with the uses of medical marijuana for cancer side effects and had wanted to explore that option, but it was not yet legalized officially in Pennsylvania. I did not know the difference between Marijuana and CBD oil, so I began to research CBD oil a bit, finding very little on the benefits for head and neck cancer survivors, most likely because the survival rates are not the most positive and many survivors are members of older generations who rely solely on traditional courses of treatment. However, many of the issues listed such as nerve pain, fatigue, nausea, and skin issues all fit what I was dealing with and I figured I had nothing to lose by giving Rx Canna Care a shot.
My Experience with Rx Canna Care.
I began using the canna cream while doing my facial lymphedema massage, the canna lotionon all of my scars, as well as the 700mg sublingual CBD drops up to 3x/day. My oncologist was thankfully supportive, saying that he was open to me trying anything that may bring me relief and help push my recovery in a positive direction. After over a year of regular use, my scars have lightened significantly, my skin graft site even began to freckle again to match the rest of my skin.
My tracheostomy and neck incision scars also lightened and my skin is no longer dry. I use the canna cream when performing my neck muscle and lymphedema massages, which not only help the massages be more effective, but also improved my hypersensitivity and numbness.
The most notable change though involves the inside of my mouth. My saliva is no longer thick and unmanageable, my dry mouth has reduced, and my taste returned nearly 100%, all of which I was told may never happen by my doctors.
Recovery and Hope
Whether my results have been related to the CBD oil or just the natural healing process, I could never know. I do know however, that I have achieved more functional gains than most of the survivors I have met along the way. Recently, I celebrated my 2 year cancer-versary. I am also on a regular diet with mild restrictions, working part time as an occupational therapist, and planning a wedding/future with the love of my life. Like many in my shoes, I still don’t have answers for why this cancer chose me, and I am still regularly reliant on narcotics due to all of the damage radiation did to my jaw and neck. This makes speech and eating painful throughout the day.
Thankfully, my current doctor is hopeful that CBD oil, along with a new regimen of therapy and other options will remove the need for narcotics as well. My only wish is that someone would have made me aware of CBD oil before all of the damage was done. I have recommended Rx Canna Care to many people over the past year. This includes other head and neck cancer survivors I have met online and also family and friends who suffer from skin issues, migraines, and nerve pain.
Because much of my damage is either permanent or will heal slowly over the next 5 years, CBD oil will most definitely be a part of my routine. I will continue using their creams, lotions, and drops for the foreseeable future, helping me remain #DevinStrong ☺! I’m so thankful to the Rx Canna Care team for making these amazing, quality products that have helped me to regain my health and get back to life!
Below are before and after pictures:
It’s both amazing and moving to see that we have given people a sense of hope, and results, who have received some of the worst news in their lifetime. It motivates us to continue working hard to develop the best products for our consumers, including those who are battling cancer, or the side effects of treatment. If you have a story that you would like to share with us, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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