Author: Mark Newman, News Staff

Julie DiNardo knew something wasn’t right. The long-time Mountain registered dental hygienist was chatting with Pino, her husband of 23 years, at the breakfast table back in April 2011 when she became concerned about a lack of symmetry on Pino’s face.

“He looked a little off on one side of his throat,” said Julie, who has been screening people for oral cancer for more than a quarter-century.

As she has been trained to do, Julie began to feel her husband’s neck, her fingers pushing down gently, but firmly in a number of places. Little did she know, her many years of encouraging the public to get annual oral check-ups was about to hit home. Under Pino’s right ear, along the jaw line, Julie discovered something she described as feeling like a fish.
Her heart skipped a beat.

“When you’ve felt thousands of necks and you’ve felt thousands of normals, when an abnormal comes up, you know it,” Julie said.

While dozens of worrisome thoughts raced through her mind at the time, the mother of four told her husband to get the lump checked out at their family doctor right away. The family doctor couldn’t find anything and sent Pino home with antibiotics in case there was some inflammation.

Julie said she insisted her husband see a specialist and Pino was examined by an ear, nose and throat doctor who was also unable to find anything. The specialist did send Pino for an ultrasound that confirmed Julie’s suspicion there was a problem.

“They said uh, oh there’s something here,” said Julie, who noted her husband has led a pretty healthy life. “He doesn’t smoke, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t curse.”

A biopsy and MRI confirmed there was a cancer tumour in his right parotid gland, one of three major salivary glands in the body. Our bodies have two parotid glands located in front of each ear.

In August 2012 Pino underwent surgery at St. Joseph’s Hospital to have the large lump removed. That was flowed by 32 sessions of radiation at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre which wrapped up prior to last Christmas. The radiation treatment required Pino to wear a cast on his face, which was quite an ordeal for someone who has claustrophobia.

“I would say that was the most difficult part of the whole thing that happened to me,” said Dinardo.

He is now cancer free and the veteran denturist recently returned to full time hours at the Gleam Smile Centre on Upper James where he and Julie have their practices.

“I’m very grateful,” said Pino, adding that he was prepared to let the matter slide after the first visit to the doctor failed to confirm anything. He credits his wife for pushing him to see a specialist and get tested.

“I’m very happy she did,” Pino said. “If left alone this would have been a lot more serious.”

Julie said her husband is a perfect example of why everyone, regardless of their lifestyle, needs to have an oral screening by a qualified hygienist or dentist at least once a year.

“If it happened to my husband, it could happen to any of us,” she said.

“I would advise people to get screened,” added Pino. “It’s simple if it’s caught early, if it’s too late it could be fatal.”

At the Glean Smile Centre, oral screening includes feeling of the neck and looking into the mouth with a variety of coloured lights that can detect tissue and blood vessel abnormalities. The painless process takes 15-20 minutes and clients with abnormalities are referred to an oral surgeon for further examination and a biopsy. According to Canadian Cancer Society numbers 2,700 males and 1,350 females were diagnosed with oral cancer last year. Also in 2012, 780 males and 380 females died from oral cancer.

Julie noted the earlier an oral cancer is detected the better the chance of a successful outcome like her husband. According to the cancer society’s website, most people diagnosed with oral cancer are over age 50. While there is no single cause of the disease, people who smoke or chew tobacco, drink excessive alcohol or have a lot of sun exposure on their lips have an increased risk of getting oral cancer.

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