By: Michaela Ream
In September 2021, the last thing Tyra Langille expected to hear as a healthy, then-25-year-old was that she had stage 2 oral squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer typically seen in older men with a history of drinking or smoking. Thankfully, her surgery and radiation treatments were successful and, now in complete remission, Langille is an advocate for oral cancer, raising awareness of its impact and the need for more screening. She also encourages others to advocate for themselves.
Langille says her doctor told her she is part of the 25 per cent of cases where the cause for this cancer is unknown — but she isn’t alone in her experience.
Earlier this year, when Rick Campbell was driving to the office one morning, he heard Langille on the radio sharing her oral cancer story. It took Campbell back 40 years to his experience with the same diagnosis when he was 19. He is also in remission today.
Because of the similarities between their stories, Campbell reached out to the Alberta Cancer Foundation, which helped Campbell connect with Langille.
Here, they share their stories:
TL: “Like anyone who hears [they have cancer], your world crumbles in front of you, but I refused to think that my life was over because of this cancer. I went into extreme fight mode, but still, the hardest part of it all was how much it altered me. I had to reteach myself how to eat, swallow and speak all over again. To this day, I have issues speaking and, sometimes, I choke on my food.”
RC: “Hearing Tyra’s story on the radio took me back 40 years [to my own oral cancer diagnosis] as she went down her list of challenges that sounded very familiar, like relearning how to eat and speak. [For me], in 1983, with no long-term case studies or similar patients to reference, answers surrounding my future were cautious and reserved. It was one day at a time, moving forward on a roller coaster of emotions, questions and uncertainties. I felt a duty to somehow let Tyra know that someone else was out there with the same personal experience of what she was going through. We were able to contact each other via email thanks to the Foundation. Tyra mentioned that, as she was going through her ordeal, she felt very alone, considering she knew no one in Alberta (or even Canada) that had a similar experience to share. Now she does.”
TL: “I loved that he reached out. I love that we have a special friendship where we understand what it’s like after everything. Hearing how he is today — living a normal life, being cancer-free — gives me hope.”
RC: “Tyra and I recently had a chance to meet in person for the first time, and it was wonderful and therapeutic for us both. Within minutes, we were comparing scars, holding back tears and laughing about our common experiences. With occurrences and feelings that we could both relate to, we chatted nonstop about the past, present and future. We discussed the advancements in our treatments but also recognized the procedures that have remained unchanged over 40 years.”
TL: “The Alberta Cancer Foundation’s impact on all Albertans is heartwarming, especially for myself. The Foundation was extremely selfless and compassionate in the way they went about connecting Rick and I. Because of the Foundation, I have gained a new friend that understands me on a different level.”