Tongue Cancer Survivor

Believe in the best possible outcomes

Now that Mark Bunnell’s tongue cancer is behind him, he does his best to give back to those who supported him during the height of his disease.

Have you ever bitten your tongue so hard that it resulted in an open sore? That’s what I thought I’d done in late 2004 when a sore developed on the right side of my tongue. But while those types of sores are painful and annoying, they generally clear up within a week. This one, however, remained for several weeks, so I decided to see my dentist. Upon examination, he immediately referred me to an oral surgeon for further evaluation.

I saw the oral surgeon in January 2005, and after undergoing some tests, I was diagnosed with Stage I squamous cell carcinoma on the right lateral edge of my tongue. I was very concerned after hearing the diagnosis. However, I wasn’t hugely surprised because I had been a smoker since my teens.

My treatment team recommended surgery, but before I agreed to it, I requested a second opinion. The opinions of both surgeons aligned, so I quickly scheduled the surgery. I was anxious to get the cancer out of my body, and I was confident in the medical team I chose.

The surgeon removed the cancer from my tongue and also took out several local lymph nodes. Fortunately, I caught my cancer early and received prompt treatment from an expert head and neck cancer surgeon, so after the surgery I didn’t require any chemotherapy or radiation.

My taste and speech healed well after the surgery, and I was fortunate to have no lasting side effects. I’m also thrilled to say that the cancer has not in any way resurfaced during the past eight years, and I’m currently doing great.

For me, discussing the diagnosis was the best and only approach because it’s my opinion that it’s best to face reality directly and to continue to believe in the best possible outcome. When I first told my mother, she was beside herself, but I reinforced my confidence in the surgeon I had chosen. My two daughters, who were both in their 20s at the time, were confused and wanted to be told that everything would be alright. That was easy for me to do because I truly believed it would. Everyone else I talked to also wanted to hear that the outcome would most likely be positive.

Through the trauma of the diagnosis, surgery and recovery, my wife and immediate family supported me at each step. We received a tremendous amount of support from our friends that live both locally and across the country. And now that all of this is behind me, I try my best to give back whenever I can to those who were so supportive of me and my family.

Before cancer, I spent 25 years as an urban planner and economic development specialist in three major American cities, followed by 10 years as a real estate and development consultant. I’ve learned that a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean that life has to stop; I still enjoy sailing, golfing and cooking, and I live part time on Cape Cod and love traveling to France.

Be positive. Hope for the best. And as each morning comes, appreciate the great gift of life.