Oral cancer survivor adjusts after facial reconstruction

While life isn’t exactly the same, Ronnie Queenan prefers to acknowledge that he’s still alive five years after undergoing surgery and radiation to remove a tumor from his jaw. “Just have an attitude of gratitude,” he says. Ronnie’s cancer journey began July 2011, when a stubborn toothache forced him into a tooth extraction. “I was really sore after I had it pulled, but I didn’t think nothing of it. I went back to the same dentist, and he noticed the tooth next to it was loose as well and so he pulled that tooth, too,” says Ronnie, now 61. When the soreness didn’t go away, Ronnie returned to the dentist a third time. The dentist noticed his gums weren’t healing, so he took a biopsy. It showed a tumor on the right side of his jaw. Facial reconstruction at MD Anderson Ronnie’s dentist referred him to MD Anderson, and within two weeks, Ronnie received his official diagnosis: stage IV squamous cell carcinoma, a type of oral cancer. Erich Sturgis, M.D., and Edward Chang, M.D., told him he needed surgery to remove a part of his jaw and six weeks of daily radiation therapy. “They told me the risks, but if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t live because the cancer had spread to a nerve that goes up to your brain,” he says. On Sept. 3, 2011, Sturgis and Chang performed the 10-hour surgery, which included reconstruction of Ronnie’s jaw. “They took a femur bone out of my leg and transferred it into my right jaw. Then they look a layer of skin from my thigh to cover that...