Tonsil Cancer

Cancer can’t stop survivor from dancing

Marilyn Sanford was diagnosed with Stage III tonsil cancer in 1996.


I’ve danced my entire life. Whether it was hip hop or belly dancing, I’ve always been in the jam. I love it! It makes me happy and keeps me young. So, one of the hardest things about living with cancer was being too tired and sick to dance. After receiving my diagnosis of Stage III squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsillar fossa in 1996, I was determined to not only live but to keep dancing.

That year, I noticed an enlarged lymph node near my ear lobe. Ironically, I had just read something about the “seven signs of cancer,” and the enlarged lymph node was on the list. I didn’t want to get too worked up, but my gut told me to get it looked at to be sure. I’m happy I listened to my instincts because the doctor took a biopsy that day and immediately called me back to his office to tell me it was a tumor.

I had surgery that summer followed by radiation about six weeks later. Doctors recommended chemotherapy treatments to run currently with the radiation, but I didn’t want to do both. I had done a lot of research and learned about how sick it would make me. It was just a gut feeling I had.

So, I just said, “No.”

It may seem like a difficult thing to do, to trust your own instincts over doctors’ orders, but I just knew it was the right path for me. As far as I know, the cancer is long gone, so I am happy with my decision. Of course, I’m thankful for my doctors and the treatment they provided, but this experience has taught me that life comes with no guarantees. Sure, doctors are the experts and have our best interests at heart, but it’s also OK to trust your gut.

The radiation was harder than I ever expected. I was too weak and sick to dance during my treatment, and I still have some side effects from the treatments. But, they’re nothing compared to the alternative. Plus, I’m dancing again. I started as soon as my body would allow it, and it has been my biggest coping mechanism. I tried a support group, but it just wasn’t for me. Instead, I dance.


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