Seeing Oral Cancer from Both Sides: Marcia Eaton’s Story

August 21, 2014

Hello, my name is Marcia Eaton and I am very pleased to be blogging this month!

In grade 10, I was given an assignment to pick a career and job shadow someone in that career. Originally, I picked dentist, but at the dental office I found myself spending a great amount of time with the dental hygienist. Well, the rest is history and I have been a dental hygienist for 23 years.

I am also an oral cancer survivor. I have spent time with the BC Oral Cancer Prevention Program team talking about my cancer experience in order to bring a face to oral cancer and show how life continues after treatment concludes.


I was 30 years old when oral cancer became a part of my life.

I first noticed the lesion when I was brushing my teeth. It was on the left side of my tongue, oval in shape, red and stung when the toothpaste hit it. I first thought I had cut myself or bit my tongue somehow. Then I took a closer look and remembered seeing this in Oral Pathology class in dental hygiene school. Within weeks, I had my employer look at the lesion, there was a biopsy done and a confirmation of oral cancer on the left side of my tongue was given to me.

It didn’t make sense. I wasn’t the typical candidate for oral cancer. I didn’t fit in any of the traditional risk factors. I’m not a smoker or drinker and I was only 30 years old, unusually young for an oral cancer patient. Thoughts of “Why me?” and “What did I do to deserve this?” quickly consumed my mind. Still, cancer was now a part of me and it was time to face it.

My treatment time at the BC Cancer Agency Vancouver Centre was five months. The journey included many visits with specialists who ordered tests and did many exams. I had two surgeries (one to remove half of my tongue and a second to remove some affected lymph nodes) and I also spent time having radiation therapy. It was certainly a place that I never thought I would become familiar with, but every clinician was so kind. They made each challenging step of my treatment easier to pass through.

It has been 17 years since my last radiation treatment and the beginning of my survivorship. I was extremely lucky to have been under the care of such a talented team of clinicians and researchers. In my opinion, I couldn’t have been in a better place at a better time for my best chances of survival.


Even though being diagnosed with oral cancer was very trying, it also led to a unique opportunity to educate others about oral cancer.

As a dental hygienist and an oral cancer survivor, I promote early detection and prevention with patients. I teach patients about what oral cancer is, prevention and early detection strategies and how to determine who is at risk. I also share my story with as many people as possible through presentations at dental conferences, dental hygiene study clubs and in the dental operatory. Just recently, I spoke to the community of supporters at the annual “An Evening to Conquer Oral Cancer”, which raises funds for the BC Cancer Foundation in support of oral cancer research and care at the BC Cancer Agency.

My feeling is that the more people that hear about oral cancer and the work that is being done at the BC Cancer Agency and in the community to prevent and treat it, the better. There is strength in numbers!