Chester woman overcomes oral cancer

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When Diane Merryman had an oral surgeon give her the bad news – “it’s cancer” – she wasn’t entirely surprised. After all, she had been experiencing a mouth sore in her upper palate for nine months that should have healed in 30 days.

“It really didn’t hurt much,” she said. “It just wouldn’t go away.” What was surprising was that she was one of the most unlikely candidates for the diagnosis. She never smoked, she only drank a glass of wine occasionally, and had regular checkups at the dentist.

“Most of the doctors I saw that year (2014-15) relied on their ability to see cancer cells in my mouth, and they never did,” Merryman said. No one ever recommended a trial of antibiotics either. Cancer doesn’t respond to antibiotics, so it could have helped with an earlier diagnosis. The cancer was small and slow growing, but it was aggressive and had started attacking the bone. There were several options, and Merryman chose the most difficult, but the one that was most likely to have the best outcome.

“My friend from church, George Emerson, recommended Massey Cancer Center and set me up with my first appointment. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I realized after the surgery the doctors couldn’t possibly accurately describe the procedure I went through without scaring me to death,” Merryman confessed. “I tried to be informed and prepared, and my faith, my family and my church community supported me all along the way. I was so blessed to have so much support.”

Merryman’s surgery involved removing four molars, and the bone to which they were attached, then replacing the bone with bone from her shoulder blade and stitching it all back together with muscle tissue from her back. It was a 10 hour surgery, almost twice as long as her husband’s open heart surgery to repair a heart valve and a bypass procedure three years earlier.

“My head was swollen like a basketball. I had a ‘trach,’ so I couldn’t talk and used a dry erase board to communicate while I was in the hospital.” She was in ICU for one week and a step-down unit on the same floor for a second week. The “trach” was removed the morning before she was released.

“I was so glad to talk again,” she said. It was so hard to communicate with just the dry erase marker. Although she stayed on a feeding tube for five months, she forced herself to eat solid food so that she wouldn’t lose the ability to swallow.

Merryman said she followed the doctor’s orders pretty closely, but she and her family did some additional research to learn ways to restore her strength. Just 30 days after the surgery she had 30 radiation treatments. The treatments only lasted about five minutes each, but the five days a week really wiped her out.

Getting her energy back was a real challenge. She was told that it would probably take a full year for her body to recover. She drank protein shakes and fruit and vegetable purees and tried an herbal protocol that involved taking 40 capsules a day. Needless to say, that was hard to swallow.

“It helped, but was difficult for me to sustain, because of the difficulty I had in swallowing so many pills.” Merryman began looking for a liquid supplement and found one called Ningxia Red, a fruit and vegetable puree infused with 100 percent pure therapeutic grade essential oils.

“Not all oils are alike,” Merryman said, “so don’t buy cheap oils thinking they will actually improve your health.” Most cheap oils cannot be ingested because they contain additives to create a scent. Always read the label, she said.

Merryman also used a diffuser and found that on days she felt like getting up off the sofa to do things were the days she remembered to run the diffuser. “Lime is my happy oil,” she said. “Every time I felt productive, I had lime in the diffuser.”

Merryman’s husband, Daryl, and two daughters, Sarah and Megan, were her research team. “I didn’t want my cancer to come back, and he didn’t want another heart attack,” Merryman said, “so we started looking for ways to prevent a recurrence of both illnesses. Daryl came across a protocol developed by Dr. Rangan Chatterjee, called the 4 Pillars of Health.

“It is such a sensible approach: food, movement, sleep and relaxation,” she said. “If you can manage these four aspects of your life, you can improve and maintain a healthy body. Chatterjee’s philosophy is to empower every individual to become his own architect of good health.”
Merryman looks at the 4 Pillars as a breakdown of the complicated medical procedures we generally follow.

“I’m not talking about throwing out modern medicine,” she said. “I’m talking about doing what I can to assist in my recovery and stay above the wellness line.” She is forever thankful for the great skill of her surgeons and the excellent care she received from Massey. “It’s my responsibility now to do everything I can to stay well and make their work successful,” she said.

Merryman hopes that what she learned through her ordeal can help others. She has gathered specialists in the fields of fitness, nutrition, sleep and stress management to share their tips and recommendations at a 4 Pillars Workshop on Saturday, Dec. 15 from 1 to 4 p.m. at BizWorks Enterprise Center, 2545 Bellwood Road. To register for the 4 Pillars of Health Workshop, email [email protected] for more information.


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  1. Diane is a fighter with a big heart. The 4 Pillars Workshop was a huge success and looking forward to a similar event in the spring.