Houston Mayor Shares That a Root Canal Led to His Cancer Diagnosis

Houston Mayor Shares That a Root Canal Led to His Cancer Diagnosis

How you choose to proceed once you begin your cancer journey is completely up to you. And there’s no one right way, but Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, 68, is a great example for cancer warriors who want to keep their lives as normal as possible.

Turner has served as mayor of Houston, Texas, since January 2016. And even when he was unsuspectedly diagnosed with cancer last summer, he took as little time as possible.

During a recent question-and-answer session after delivering his annual State of the City address, Turner shared exactly how doctors discovered the osteosarcoma in his jaw.

“I have also had my own personal medical situation. All my life, I’ve been the healthiest of all.” turner said. “I’m going to the dentist for a root canal, on my way to France with the trade mission. Doctors come in and say, ‘Well, it’s a little more than a root canal.’”

After Turner received the biopsy results, doctors told her she would not be able to travel to France. He then underwent a nine-hour surgery in which surgeons removed part of her leg bone to reshape her jaw.

“Let me tell you, I have been blessed,” Turner said. “As I look at the seven federally declared disasters, and then I look at what I’ve had to endure myself, and then you recover. What I would tell them is that this is an incredible, incredible city.”

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His surgery prevented an eight-day hospital stay and six weeks of radiation therapy that ended this September. Turner only missed a few weeks of City Council meetings while undergoing radiation therapy. So to say that this mayor went ahead without flinching is an understatement.

Understanding sarcomas

The term sarcoma is used to describe a series of more than 70 rare cancers that start in the bones and soft tissues, such as muscles. This diverse group of diseases represents only about one percent of tumors in adults and just over 10 percent of tumors in children.

RELATED: What are sarcomas? Learn about the types and symptoms of these rare cancers

The main symptom of sarcomas is usually a painless, slow-growing mass, but symptoms can be difficult to detect as soft tissue sarcomas are usually painless and bone sarcomas can be misdiagnosed as orthopedic injuries.

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“Unfortunately, most sarcomas don’t cause many of the symptoms that may be associated with other types of cancer.” Dr Dale Shepard, director of the phase I and sarcoma programs at the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute, tells SurvivorNet. “A golf ball-sized or larger mass that is growing should be evaluated for a possible sarcoma. It is important that patients who have symptoms do not dismiss them.”

Types of sarcoma cancers

The word sarcoma refers to a wide variety of bone and soft tissue cancers, and the individual cancers within that set have unique names. Some of the types of sarcomas include:

  • Ewing’s sarcoma is a cancer that usually occurs in and around the bones, often in the arms or legs, or in the pelvic bones. It most commonly occurs in children and young adults.
  • Kaposi’s sarcoma is a very rare type of cancer that causes lesions on the skin, lymph nodes, organs, and mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat. It usually affects people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV.
  • Epithelioid sarcoma is a type of soft tissue cancer that grows slowly. It is likely to start under the skin of areas such as the finger, hand, forearm, lower leg, or foot.
  • Synovial sarcoma, also called malignant synovioma, is a cancer that can form in soft tissues, such as muscles or ligaments, commonly near joints or in areas such as the arm, leg, or foot.
  • Osteogenic sarcoma, also called osteosarcoma, is the most common type of cancer that begins in the bones. This is the mayor’s kind of cancer.
  • Spindle cell sarcoma is very rare and comprises as little as 2 percent of all cases of primary bone cancer. It can start in the bone, often in the arms, legs, and pelvis, and usually occurs in people over the age of 40.

Work during a journey against cancer

A battle with cancer can change your life. But how you go about your days while coping with the disease is entirely up to you. For some people, it is very important to continue working. Whether it’s for financial reasons, a sense of normalcy, or just because you like what you do, it’s important to try to make a work schedule that works for you during treatment if you want to continue working. And it’s also important for you to know that there are people available to help you navigate the process of not working if that’s your preferred option.

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laurie ostcherA social worker with Sutter Bay Medical Foundation, previously spoke with SurvivorNet about how she helps people figure out their employment status after a cancer diagnosis.

Work during your cancer treatment

“Some women choose to continue working [through cancer] because working is an important part of their identity, they enjoy work and have built-in flexibility,” he explained. “I help people think about whether it makes sense to work… If you really don’t want to but you’re worried you won’t be able to make ends meet, then I’ll sit down and help you figure out, you know, with your disability insurance, would this be possible?”

Ostacher also shared questions she could ask people to help them think about what their work life might look like while battling cancer.

“For women who choose to work, I help them think about what kinds of conversations they need to have with their employer. How much information do you want to share with him or her? What type of work schedule seems to work for you? Where might you need more flexibility? she said.

No matter what, it’s important to do what’s right for you and seek out valuable resources like Ostacher if you need help deciding the right course of action when it comes to working through a battle with cancer.

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