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Regional Cancer Center

A department of Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center

Stories of Strength

Silencing the Pain

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy is the final step in healing tongue cancer.

Alison Henry

In January of 2022, Alison Henry experienced jaw pain so intense that she could not open her mouth to express its intensity. She could not speak, and eventually her ability to eat became so compromised that a feeding tube was placed. 

Several doctors failed to pinpoint the source of her pain, and neither medications nor Botox injections helped. Later that year, Alison visited Radiation Oncologist Seong Cho, MD, and SBL Medical Oncologist Abdur Shakir, MD, who diagnosed her with tongue cancer.

Having undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments for breast cancer in 2019, Alison knew what to expect from the treatments. Her treatment for tongue cancer only lasted two months and at the end—one year after the ordeal started—Alison was cancer-free. Yet, she was still in pain. Biopsies a couple months later showed she was still cancer-free. 

Alison was referred for oxygen therapy at the SBL Advanced Wound Center to treat the open wound on her tongue. This is what Alison refers to as “the final chapter” of her journey with tongue cancer.

Alison was impressed by the staff. “Everybody was very professional and compassionate,” Alison said. “Some of the staff were from Oakland, Kansas and Teutopolis, and we became a small family during my treatments.”

Alison underwent 29 sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, during which the body is exposed to 100 percent oxygen at higher than typical pressures. The increased oxygen helps the wound heal correctly, and, at times, at a faster rate. Each session was a pleasant experience for Alison. “The staff members were right there with me the entire time,” Alison explained. “They never left me.”

She is grateful for Advanced Wound Center staff Robert Biggs, MD, Nicole Heltsley, APRN, and Debra Wendt, RN, who oversaw her care. After only a few weeks, Alison was able to open her mouth more and even speak. Recalling the progress she made brings back emotional memories. “After four weeks, Debra asked me what my pain level was, and I told her I didn’t have any pain,” Alison explained. “I had been in pain for so long, and I felt such relief!”

Alison finished treatment at the SBL Advanced Wound Center in September 2023. Her wound was completely healed, and Alison was pain-free. Shortly thereafter, the feeding tube was removed, too. “I am so grateful to have my health back,” Alison said. “For so long, I couldn’t speak, and it was difficult to communicate. I was never alone though, because I had my friends and family to help me, and I have my faith in Jesus.”

Although the cancer and pain are gone, Alison still has some residual side effects. Her speech articulation has not yet returned to its previous state, and foods she used to love now taste different. Both are things she can deal with.

Alison is grateful to the SBL Advanced Wound Center staff for its care. She is also thankful for Drs. Cho and Shakir, as well as Nurse Navigator Jane

Weaver, RN, and Palliative Care Specialist Michelle DelRossi, RN, CHPN, who helped her during treatment at the SBL Regional Cancer Center. Alison is appreciative of the SBL speech therapy staff who helped her following her completion of oxygen therapy.

“I knew I was in awesome hands in every department at Sarah Bush Lincoln,” Alison said. “We are so lucky to have them. Everyone treated me like I was special. They had so many other patients to care for, but I felt like I was the only one.”

To learn more about the SBL Regional Cancer Center, call 217 258-2250.