Keith Hautala

If you were 28 years old, and you just discovered you had cancer -- a cancer that was rare and potentially fatal -- how would you feel if you heard your doctor say these words to you: “You’re not going to die.”

I grew up in Thunder Bay, where I studied forestry management. In 2002 I was doing graduate studies in Alberta for the summer when I discovered a lump on my chin. I didn’t think much of it until I got back home and went to see my doctor. That’s when I learned that a large tumor had made its way through most of my jaw. A biopsy confirmed my worst fear -- the tumor was cancerous, and it was an extremely rare form of cancer. I was 28 years old.

What was worse, this cancer would not respond to chemotherapy. I would need surgery. In fact, my entire jaw would have to be removed.

I was referred to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the next thing I knew, I was sitting in a waiting room over a thousand kilometres away from home. And that’s when Dr. Irish came in and greeted me with his memorable line of introduction.

“My name is Jon Irish, and I want you to know that you’re not going to die.”

From that point on, things moved fast. With Dr. Irish leading a team of surgeons, my entire jaw bone was removed. But that’s not all. Believe it or not, the surgical team used a bone from my leg to reconstruct my new jaw! The bone was actually cut into four pieces and shaped together to form my new jaw.

I know… I can hardly believe it myself. The talent and technology that made this surgery possible will never cease to amaze me. It sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it?

But it did happen. In fact, I’m very lucky that I was treated at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

What I remember most is what Dr. Irish first said when he walked into the room. That meant everything to me. I held onto those words in the moments leading up to my surgery and in the difficult times through recovery.

The Wharton Head and Neck Centre, located at The Princess Margaret is Canada's sole multidisciplinary centre exclusively devoted to the research, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of head and neck cancers.
  Reviewed: October 2013