Five-time salivary gland cancer survivor faces life with a smile

Kelly Mireles’ smile is the facial feature most people notice when first meeting her. That alone is a minor miracle. Kelly had most of her jawbone removed in March 2015 after a salivary gland cancer recurrence. Her mandible was rebuilt by MD Anderson surgeons in May 2016 using part of her fibula, a non-weight-bearing leg bone. Today, with the help of an oral prosthesis, Kelly is able to eat, speak and even smile again. “I had a really hard time with it at first, and in some situations, I still feel a bit self-conscious,” Kelly admits. “But even when I had scars and a brace on my face, I went out and did things. I tried not to let cancer affect who I was and what I wanted to do.” A salivary gland cancer diagnosis Kelly first noticed a lump on the right side of her face in late 2008. She saw a dentist, an ENT and a chiropractor, who ruled out tooth and sinus problems, as well as TMJ. But they also offered her no other possible causes. It took mentioning a twitching eye and a trembling lip to her gynecologist to finally get answers. “He sent me to an ENT oncologist, who did some scans,” Kelly says. “Sure enough, there was a tumor.” Kelly was diagnosed with stage I adenocarcinoma on her right parotid gland — a rare oral cancer in the primary salivary gland — in October 2009. She had surgery near her home in San Antonio, followed by chemotherapy and radiation. But the cancer returned four more times over seven years, which required more surgeries,...