Tongue cancer survivor uses voice to support cancer research

When Cora “Corky” Hilliard was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the tongue for the second time in June 2012, she got to MD Anderson as quickly as she could. She’d had her first tongue cancer occurrence treated near her home in Austin nearly three years earlier. At the time, she’d been told that the disease would never return to its original location. At MD Anderson, our integrated approach to cancer treatment won her admiration immediately. “In 2009, I had to go out and find my own radiation oncologist, and I couldn’t get any direction from the doctors about who was driving the bus,” Corky says. “Then I came to MD Anderson and met with Dr. Michael Kupferman and his team, and I realized that I actually had a team. It included an oncologist, a radiologist, a surgeon, a speech therapist, a nutritionist and more, all working together. That gave me immense confidence.” Tongue cancer treatment at MD Anderson saves speech Corky’s confidence proved well-founded. During an Aug. 2012 robot-assisted surgery, Kupferman was able to completely remove the golf ball-sized tumor near the base of Corky’s tongue without compromising her ability to speak — a critical concern since she makes her living as a public speaker. “I’d been told by a different doctor that if I had the surgery, only my close friends and family might eventually be able to understand me,” Corky says. “So I was facing not only the loss of my ability to communicate verbally, but also the loss of my career. MD Anderson literally gave me my voice back.” Previous radiation exposure requires ongoing vigilance...