Patients going through cancer treatments have to be extra careful about their dental health, and Dr. Stevens KNOWS how Stu LOVES to floss! (he really does!)

Unless you are living under a rock this past week in Ottawa, you’ve heard that “Stuntman” Stu Schwartz (Majic100 Morning Show Host, PA Announcer for the Ottawa Senators, emcee for various charitable events in the city, husband, father, and friend to many) was diagnosed with Leukemia, specifically Philadelphia chromosome-positive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. An avid social media user, he made this announcement via video on Facebook to the surprise of all who know him as an energetic and healthy-looking guy. He is currently living at the Ottawa Hospital General Campus while receiving what will be his life-saving chemotherapy treatment.

I am at “that age” when my friends are being diagnosed with serious illnesses like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes…but cancer is one of those diseases often seemingly unrelated to age or lifestyle. It was June 2015 when I happened to notice the very small lump on my nephew Nathan’s jaw while my brother’s family was visiting us from Philadelphia. So small that everyone else thought I was crazy to make a big deal out of it.  After all, he just had his dental checkup recently, he had no pain or any symptoms. I looked in his mouth (in my kitchen) and saw nothing alarming. And yet I pushed…when he returned to Philadelphia, I contacted a friend from dental school who is an Oral Surgeon in Philadelphia, Dr. Andrew Kanter. He helped facilitate testing for what we were sure (and hoping) was no big deal.  It turned out to be a very rare presentation of cancer of his jaw called Histiocytosis X. Thankfully, this type of cancer, when caught extremely early like we did, is treatable. First, weekly chemotherapy to shrink the tumor for up to one year, and then surgery to remove what is left, always checking to make sure it hasn’t spread to other areas of his body.  From the time I saw the lump until late August 2015 when he finally received his diagnosis and started chemotherapy, the tiny lump had created visible changes in the shape of his face.

When my nephew Nathan, 8 years old, started to lose his hair from chemotherapy, his dad (my brother Stuart) shaved his own head in support!

When my nephew Nathan, 8 years old, started to lose his hair from chemotherapy, his dad (my brother Stuart) shaved his own head in support!

Regardless of the type of cancer, chemotherapy is extremely hard on the body, and very hard on the family of the patient as well. My brother changed and minimized his work schedule to accommodate the many days my nephew would be home, too sick to go to school, allowing my sister-in-law to keep earning enough to keep them afloat. Playing outside was out of the question; if he fell, or was hit in the face with a ball, his extremely weak jaw might shatter. He was homeschooled for a while until the weekly chemotherapy was reduced to less often.  Things seem to be moving along as doctors had hoped for Nathan, but there has been a toll on their family over this number of months.

We see so often big pushes in communities to “raise money for cancer research”, but from where I sit we need more support closer to home.  Right now in Ottawa, Stu Schwartz and his friends and family have released #StuStrong t-shirts for pre-sale, the proceeds of which will go directly towards the Cancer Centre at the Ottawa General Hospital, where he is being treated. In many ways, Stu is lucky. He has a humongous circle of community, family, and friend support to help his family manage through this illness and treatment, but many families aren’t as fortunate. If the person receiving treatment is the main breadwinner of the family and can’t work, if a child is ill a parent often takes a leave of absence to be constantly available, and if the person receiving treatment doesn’t have family or many friends this makes a very difficult road even worse to travel.

It is estimated that more than 539 people will be diagnosed with cancer every day in 2016. This means that chances are high that either you or someone you know will be affected. How can you make a real difference? If you are making yearly charitable donations to large organizations, I would challenge you instead (or additionally) to make those donations locally to support the families affected by this terrible group of diseases. There are often local athletic competitions raising money to help the families of those undergoing cancer treatments. For example, if you are a runner (like I am), you could sign up to run one of the Scotiabank races held in Ottawa each year in May, and choose to raise money for any number of local organizations (I’ll be running the Half Marathon for the third time, collecting donations towards children’s cancer treatment). There are many more opportunities just like these, you just have to look.

If you don’t have much money to donate, your time and your blood are free, and like the advertisements say, “Blood. It’s in you to give.” If you are over 17 years old, you can donate every 56 days for whole blood, every 7 days for plasma, and every 14 days for platelets. If you are looking for a way to make a definitive difference in saving lives, contact them today and schedule your donation. There are also numerous ways to donate your time, either by arranging fundraising events, working on existing events, or contacting the local hospitals to see what they need. Knitted hats and blankets are always helpful to patients of all ages undergoing cancer treatments and a measurable way to lift spirits as well.

For all who have fought this battle or are fighting it now, we give to you our positive thoughts and prayers. #StayStrong.

Dr. Andrea Stevens is a cosmetic and family dentist in practice in Kanata, Ontario. If you have dental questions, you can call her at 613-271-7091 or visit her at kanatacosmeticdentist.com Please also feel free to leave comments or questions below, and Dr. Stevens will be happy to answer.