As an oral cancer survivor, Eva Grayzel knows how lucky she is.
She organizes an annual awareness walk for what she says is an often overlooked disease.
“I was diagnosed sixteen years ago and I am so lucky to be articulate,” she said. “I can’t ethically live my life as I do without doing whatever I can to make sure what happened to me doesn’t happen to other people.”
Grayzel survived stage four oral cancer, which is the most serious of the four stages. She has served as the chair of the oral cancer awareness walk in Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania, for six years. This year’s walk is Sept. 27.
Grayzel says that raising awareness is the key step to catching the disease early before it can do the most damage. Other survivors will join her in the walk.
“There are going to be 20 survivors who have all been diagnosed late and most of them have facial disfigurements. They can’t speak normally, some of them can’t speak,” she said. “It’s devastating. Oral cancer steals things we take for granted such basic human needs, everything social.”
Grayzel’s group helped organize a continuing education class for dentists to learn about oral cancer and its connection with the human papillomavirus. Symptoms of oral cancer are sometimes unrecognized by sufferers and doctors.
Eileen Ciszak lost her daughter as a result of a misdiagnosis.
“The doctor gave her an antibiotic and told her to see her dentist, that she probably had a cracked tooth,” she said. “By the time she got there, the dentist knew immediately she needed to pursue this and the next day she was having a biopsy done.”
Thanks to the support of people like Ciszak, the walk has been growing. They had attended the walk once several years ago, but stopped after their daughter died.
“The first year we attended the walk, at that time my daughter had just had her oral cancer surgery, and we wanted to show our support,” Ciszak said. “Ten months after we attended the walk, she had passed away and it was just very difficult for us to really get involved at that point.”
After some healing, Ciszak decided to return.
“We just wanted to try to help organize, to create awareness with our story, be there to support others who have lost loved ones and support the survivors,” she said.
Eva Grayzel, walk chairwoman, attended the 2013 Oral Cancer Foundation Walk for Awareness with her husband, Ken Cohen.*This news story was resourced by the Oral Cancer Foundation, and vetted for appropriateness and accuracy.