My name is Cindy Bumgardner and I live in Paxton Florida with my husband Tommy and my son Hunter who is a sophomore at Paxton High School. I also have a daughter, Brittany that graduated from Paxton and a step daughter, Mariah that also graduated from Paxton. I am 47 years young and was initially diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma on October 2, 2020. Wow, Cancer! How? Why? Cancer doesn’t even run in my family!
Sometime in August I had developed an ulcer on the side of my tongue, which I dismissed and told myself it was no big deal it will go away. Well after a few weeks of trying home remedies the ulcer would not go away and my tongue began to swell and get lesions on the side and under my tongue. I made an appointment with an ENT in North West Florida who wanted to do a biopsy on my tongue. Hearing the word biopsy was scary, having it done was even harder and waiting for the results felt like an eternity. I left there in so much pain that only increased day by day and what seemed to spread throughout my tongue. October 2, 2020, I went in for a follow up to discuss the results and was informed then that it was cancer. All I could do was sit there in shock while the doctor was telling me that he would refer me to an ENT surgeon at Baptist Medical Group. He tried to console me as I sat in his office and just broke down in tears. All the while, he was very optimistic that the tumor would be removed and that he was certain that it was caught early on and was small. Since I came to my appointment on my own, he told me to take all the time that I needed before I left to return to my office. I sat there for about 5 more minutes and was on my way, telling myself that I was going to be okay and trying to be as optimistic as the doctor was. I get back to my office and discuss with my boss that also had a cancer like mine the results of my biopsy. From this date on it was one appointment after another as I needed labs done, CT scans, PET scans, it all seemed never ending. I finally went to my referral to Dr. White at Baptist Medical and it just gets worse. I drive an hour away for a ten-minute appointment to be advised that the mass was too much and too deep for her to deal with, they did not have the staff or the facility for what I needed so then she referred me to UAB.
On October 28th I met with Dr, Greene and the reconstructive surgeon Dr. Thomas at UAB and my surgery was set for November 6th. You hear everything they tell you but I am not sure it all sinks in, they are going to remove the parts of my tongue that is showing signs of the mass and my lymph nodes in my neck and reconstruct my tongue. How do I prepare for that, will they get it all, will I be able to talk or swallow when it is all done?
November 5th day before my surgery I had to go back to UAB to be tested for Covid, only one person was going to be allowed in the hospital with me during surgery and only 1 person could stay within a 24 hour period during my stay in the hospital. I am terrified; however, I will try to be strong. I will crack jokes because if I don’t I feel as though I will break. It is time for surgery I am not prepared…
The removal of the mass and reconstruction of my tongue took 12 hours. I woke up in severe pain, and complete stiffness around my neck. They had to place a feeding tube through my nose and a trach to help me breath due to the swelling in my neck. I can’t speak, I can’t tell anyone how I feel, and I can no longer see my original tongue, the part of my tongue that was visible is now gone. I have staples going from behind my ear on one side going all the way around my neck to behind my ear on the other side. I’m shocked as this was not the original plan. I was told to remove the lymph nodes they would make small incisions on both sides of my neck, so when I see pictures taken by my husband that I look as though I was decapitated and put back together was a little bit of a shock. I had multiple drain tubes that are coming from my neck area to help keep fluid from building up under my skin. They robbed parts of myself to reconstruct my tongue, they took blood vessels, skin and tissue from my left forearm and skin graft from my left thigh to put back on my arm. My forearm will have to be protected with a split for the next month, to ensure it is not bumped.
When I saw myself for the first time I was horrified as there was so much swelling I no longer felt like myself, not just physically but emotionally. I went from this very independent person to having to have someone help me with the little things we take for granted like eating real food to having someone feed me through a tube to having someone help bath me and even help me use the bathroom. I stay in the hospital for a week before they discharged me to finally return home. I kept telling myself how much better I will feel once I get home. The 3-and-a-half-hour drive home was the longest drive home ever. Still swollen and in pain I couldn’t get comfortable sitting or lying and every bump in the road was felt. When I get home I cannot sleep in my bed because of the excess fluid that builds up in my mouth I feel that I will drown, so I sleep in a recliner in the living room with my suctioning machine to remove excess fluid from my mouth and my trach.
My follow up visit at UAB was on November 24th, they removed the rest of the drain lines and reduced the size of the trach. I wish this were the day we were told they got all the cancer with the surgery, but we didn’t get the news we wanted to hear. Instead, I am informed that the tumor was adenosquamos carcinoma which is a hybrid tumor that was staged a T3 and that they removed 55 lymph nodes from my neck and of those, 4 lymph nodes contained cancer and appeared to be growing outside of the lymph nodes, which was a N3 for staging. Chemo and radiation for at least 6 weeks is now needed. I am still needing to undergo therapy to swallow and for speech. It is now almost 4 weeks since my surgery and I still cannot move my tongue, still have my trach and feeding tube. To say that this is all overwhelming is an understatement. Since all of this is so unfamiliar territory for me, I try to find as much information about what I am dealing with and I may have bit off more than I could chew. Immediately I am terrified as I read how aggressive this cancer is and that it is not a very common cancer, not to mention that most cases are typically males and the outcome is quite poor. So, for another moment I have stressed myself out and find myself terrified and all in my feelings. But I refuse to keep my spirits down and there is no way that my husband will allow that either. So I will chin up and put it in God’s hands that his work will be done. But I have learned a great deal within this time, not only about myself but my family and those around me. I have learned that it is okay to be scared and to have my moments of weakness, it’s okay to cry and it’s okay to lean on others, when I have gone my whole life being so independent that I refuse to ask for help when I most need it. I have learned that I have the best people in my life to include my husband and my sister that have dedicated all their time to take care of me during my time of need without hesitation. That I have the best of friends that have prayed for me daily and provide their positive vibes to push me through this ugly battle and letting me know that I am not alone. That people that I don’t even know and have never crossed paths with continue to pray for me, which is so awesome and humbling. Most of all to our almighty God that has been by my side through all of this and reminding me that he will get me through this as he is still working on healing me daily.
Introducing our 4th and final 2021 Cancer Freeze recipient. Below is her story:
Peyton Boyette is 11 years old and lives in Brewton, Alabama. Peyton is a very special little girl with a very big heart. In 2019 she saved her family from a house fire by notifying her Mother, and making sure everyone got out of the home. Sadly, the family lost their home and everything inside. Shortly after settling in to a new home after the fire and trying to get things back to normal, COVID came as somewhat of a blessing in disguise. Peyton wasn’t feeling well and the school nurse urged her Mom to have her tested for COVID-19. The Doctor at DW McMillan Hospital in Brewton, Alabama saw some irregularities in her bloodwork and sent her straight to Sacred Heart in Pensacola, Florida. Test results returned on September 11, 2020 and Peyton had been diagnosed with B-Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL). Sacred Heart Hospital has a great Oncologist Team and Peyton is receiving the best care, without being hundreds of miles away from her family. Peyton received her first chemo treatment two days after her diagnosis, two spinal taps, and will continue weekly blood tests and chemo treatments for approximately two and a half years. Peyton’s life will not be the same. She will be sick and weak, and won’t be the same bubbly little girl. Peyton’s Mom, a single Mother of three, was forced to take a leave of absence from work to care for her. Although this is a lot for an 11 year old girl to go through, Peyton is a fighter and is staying strong through it all.
Please mark your calendars and join us Saturday, February 6,2021, at beautiful Lake Jackson in Florala, Al, where we’ll be “freezin” for Peyton and our other 3 recipients.
**feel free to share Peyton’s story and pray for her journey.