Author: Jaclyn Kelley
Alex Dupuy is like most 15-year-old boys, except for one very special talent. Last year he stole the headlines during a bowling tournament for bowling a perfect 300. But that high wouldn’t last long.
“My son came to us one day and said I have an ulcer, and we thought, OK, let’s gargle with some salt water and we kept checking on it and it never went away,” said Nancy Dupuy, Alex’s mother.
When the sore on Alex’s tongue never cleared up, but instead started growing, his mother became concerned and took him to see the doctor.
“It has grown so rapidly that I would really like to have the tumor or whatever it was removed,” she said.
Alex was taken to Children’s Hospital for surgery, and doctors removed the sore and 30 percent of his tongue. Three days later test results came back confirming the Dupuy’s worst fears: It was cancer.
“The word aggressive stuck out to me,” Nancy Dupuy said. “The type of cancer that my son presented with was an adult cancer. It’s not usually diagnosed in young children.”
The doctors said Alex had a rapid form of squamous cell carcinoma of the tongue. Four days later he and his parents were on a plane to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
Through it all, Alex managed to stay positive.
“I felt nervous, I felt scared and I told myself, I’ll be alright,” Alex said.
In Houston Alex would have yet another surgery before starting six weeks of intense radiation.
“We would wrap his neck because the neck would be burned. The skin, the tissue was burned when it would start to break down,” Nancy Dupuy said.
Dr. Paul Friedlander, the chairman for Tulane’s ear, nose and throat department, said the number of young people with oral cancer is on the rise.
“Most of the cancers we saw were smoking, alcohol related,” Friedlander said. “Right now we’ve seen an increase in a number of people who have not been exposed to cigarettes and alcohol that have these cancers.”
And he said that’s because of the human papaloma virus, or HPV. It’s an orally transmitted virus that he says is easy to get.
“These can be transmitted through oral sexual contact or something as innocuous as an open-mouth kiss,” Friedlander said.
Friedlander said early detection is key.
“If one does have a sore on their mouth, difficulty with swallowing, hoarseness or a neck mass that persists after two or three weeks, it’s a good idea to see your local doctor,” he said.
He recommends parents consider getting their teens the HPV vaccination, which doctors say can help prevent oral cancer.
It’s something Nancy Dupuy did with Alex and his brothers after his diagnosis.
“In our case it wasn’t HPV, but just the thought of oral cancer and that there is maybe something that could have prevented it is just really worth it in the end,” she said.
Several weeks of radiation would take its toll on Alex, but his family says it’s bowling that got him through it.
“On the good days, Alex would bowl and Alex would be in a world that was just perfect, and to me that was the most important thing that helped him get through six weeks of radiation,” Nancy Dupuy said.
Thank to early detection, Alex is now in remission.
“I always thank God I am cancer free.”