Your Health: 5-2-13 Head and neck cancer support group

A little support can help others make a big step forward in life, especially after overcoming a terrifying situation.

There's now a first of its kind support group in Alabama.

ABC 33/40's Linda Mays shows us why one woman offers support for people who are unexpectedly diagnosed with head and neck cancers.


U. S. Health experts are seeing more X-ray images revealing head and neck tumors.

Kris Boone is Radiation Oncology Manager with St. Vincent's Health System.

Boone says, "Head and neck cancer are difficult for patients, we take our mouth and our swallowing for granted, everyday. It's just the little things of eating and swallowing and chewing."

{}Head and neck cancer survivor, Karen Clenney can relate.

She felt a pea-size bump on her neck, in 2007, yet a CT scan and even a needle biopsy uncovered nothing.

It wasn't until after surgery to remove the growth, that she learned it was stage four cancer.

Clenney says, "There was no big tumor, the lymph node were swollen, so they biopsied everything and found the primary site on the back of my tongue."

{}Seven weeks of daily cancer treatment started with three rounds of chemotherapy.

{}Clenney says, "Then I started radiation and had to have a stomach tube because at some point in radiation treatment in your throat you can no longer swallow and it's very difficult.

It's not as much a sore throat as it is a fullness and the radiation burns the inside of your throat and the outside your throat."

Clenney, a 66 year old wife, mother and grandmother could only swallow water, then.

During the last five years since treatment, a bottle of water has been a constant companion for her.

Clenney lost function of her salivary glands, leaving her mouth dry; limiting the foods she could eat.

At St.Vincent's Hospital's buffet, Clenney points out she can no longer eat salad, sometime that was a long-time staple in her diet.


Life is not the same after cancer.

Now Clenney is helping others know what to expect during and after a battle with cancer like hers.

She started the first Alabama chapter of a national non profit organization called S.P.O.H.N.C.

It's Support for People with Oral and Head and Neck Cancer Inc.

It matches survivors with survivors to share information and solutions to common problems such as the inability to chew, gain weight and even speak.

{}Clenney says, "The first man I talked to in Indianapolis said, go to a speech therapist, the same muscles you use for swallowing are the same muscles you use for speech. One of the other people they matched me to said you need to eat soup. So she sent me a bunch of soup recipes that kept me alive that and blue bell ice cream."

{}The local support group started in July 2012 and meets every third Tuesday of the month.

So far, a small group of eleven people attend; but, Clenney says, it's the sharing of their experiences that makes a big difference in their lives.

Clenney says, "I think at some point everybody that's gone through so much treatment gets really down and has a hard time because you've been so isolated. You're sick a long time and when you begin to feel better you still can't do the things you want to do."

She says, "I think just being there and saying I've been there I had trouble I'm ok, you're gonna be ok."

Clenney says, "When you come to the support group, we're encouraging we don't sit around and talk about our cancer we talk about what we can do to help someone else."

{}Clenney says, she believes it's God's will that her life includes cancer and healing and now encouraging others.

Karen Clenney advocates know the possible signs and symptoms of head and neck cancer which include a sore that doesn't heal, persistent nasal congestion that doesn't improve, a white or red patch in your mouth, a persistent sore throat not relieved by medication, a small bump or lump in the neck, pain on chewing or opening your mouth, difficulty in swallowing,difficulty in moving your jaw or tongue, persistent hoarseness, persistent pain in the ear, loss of smell, a bloody nasal discharge or coughing up blood, and/or persistent bad breath. See your dentist or physician, if any of these symptoms last more than two weeks.

The local support group for survivors of oral and head and neck cancer and their families, meets every third Tuesday at noon at St. Vincent's Bruno Cancer Center.

For more information call (205) 930-2217.


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