Fighting to Compete On and Off the Ice
After battling tongue cancer, Mass. Eye and Ear patient Jessica Dupuis shared her journey to getting back on the ice at our 10th Annual Sense-ation! Gala.
Jessica Dupuis’ desire for competition was ingrained in her spirit from an early age when she took up ice skating. As she grew older and her skills evolved, Jessica was able to tour the world with the acclaimed troupe Disney on Ice, while participating in tournaments.
Years later, after giving birth to her daughter, she determined that her days amidst the bustle of skating events and constant travel around the world were over. She decided to become a coach.
Jessica was used to the physically and mentally demanding world of professional ice skating. Her biggest challenge, however, arose when she received devastating news that the canker sore on the side of her tongue was not as harmless as she had initially thought.
Jessica was diagnosed with tongue cancer at Mass General and then referred to Derrick T. Lin, MD, division chief of Head and Neck Cancer at Mass. Eye and Ear. “If left untreated, the tongue cancer would grow, eventually taking away the patient’s ability to speak, swallow and breathe without the aid of a tracheostomy,” said Dr. Lin. “Jessica is a very strong woman. She took it as best as anyone could, obviously upset, but willing and ready to start the fight.”
A competitor through and through
During the surgery, it was discovered that Jessica’s cancer was in a more advanced stage and had spread further than suspected. Instead of removing approximately 20 percent of Jessica’s tongue as originally planned, the surgeons were forced to remove about a third of it. During the intricate procedure, experts rebuilt the missing part of Jessica’s tongue with tissue from her arm.
But Jessica’s ordeal was far from over. Between the surgery and the start of the radiation, a two-centimeter tumor grew behind the spot where the surgeons had operated. Dr. Lin decided to act more aggressively with seven weeks of radiation instead of five. During that period of time, Jessica also underwent chemotherapy treatments once a week.
“When I found out that I had another tumor, I was pretty frightened,” said Jessica. “It was looking less and less positive.”
As she grappled with the rigorous treatment, it took a toll on her self-confidence. Jessica dropped to about 98 pounds and lost her sense of taste. But even the chemicals and radiation couldn’t subdue her relentless nature as a competitor. The challenge to be the best chemo patient, and the desire to keep her life as normal as possible, propelled Jessica to drive herself to the hospital and work every morning and then pick up her 6-year-old daughter from school every afternoon.
Ultimately, love and determination prevailed over what once seemed like daunting circumstances. Today, after the surgery and multiple successful rounds of radiation, Jessica is doing wonderfully. As she positively reflects on her experience, Jessica’s immense love for her daughter gave her strength during the most arduous and disheartening times throughout her illness. She also credits her remarkable support system at Mass. Eye and Ear.
“I was so happy with Dr. Lin throughout the whole treatment,” noted Jessica. “All the care I received at Mass. Eye and Ear was so positive.”