One Local Wants to Share Her Voice with Others

Debra Sheridan

Williamson County resident Debra Sheridan has faced challenges that most of us can’t imagine. She’s a 10-year tonsil cancer survivor who has lost her voice but not her ability to communicate her message with others. Sheridan will soon be releasing a book titled My Voice where she chronicles her journey. April is also Head/Neck Cancer Awareness month, Sheridan created a group called Faces of HNC.  On Thursday, April 20, Miller Piano located at 650 Frazier Lane, Franklin will host an event in honor of Head/Neck Cancer Awareness where you can meet Debra and learn more about Faces of HNC.

Tell us why you wrote your book My Voice?

February 2017 was the 10 year anniversary of my last chemo/radiation treatment for Stage 4 Tonsil Cancer. I wanted to do something significant to mark this milestone and accomplishment. It’s been a journey unlike any I could have imagined when I started. And frankly, I’m thankful I didn’t know what was in store. But the biggest thing I wanted to share with others was encouragement. When one finds one’s voice lost, regardless of the reason why, try to find the unique opportunities that come along with the challenges of being “voiceless”. One does not have to physically lose their voice to feel their voice is not heard. Yet I believe we all deserve our voices to be heard. And once we learn how to recover our voices I encourage folk to help others find their voice.

What was the writing process like for you?

At first, the thought of writing a book was daunting. I attended a “write a book work shop” hosted by the publisher I partnered with, Black Card Books. Black Card Books is leading the market in promoting new authors. My publishing agent and the comprehensive team has coached and facilitated the process of the writing of the book. With their help I was able to organize my thoughts, set up the chapters and write the content. As Bob Seger sings in Against the Wind, “what to leave in, what to leave out” is the question I asked and answered every step along the way.

Was there anything you left out of the book you wish you hadn’t?

The book is not finalized yet. I expect once it’s finalized, printed and distributed I’ll think of what I should have included. And I’ll realize what I could have left out! Hindsight is 20/20.

As a cancer survivor, what is one thing that kept you going in your journey?

Thank you for asking. My journey as a cancer survivor has definitely contributed to my book. I was fortunate in that the cancer treatment I was prescribed eradicated my cancer and I have had no recurrence. The effects of treatment are significant and continuing, and have affected my appearance, my ability to breathe, eat, drink, and speak. However, regardless of the continuing physical challenges, I was grateful to still be alive. I believe where there is life there is hope. And where there is hope there is life. The life lessons learned and the blessings received directly as a result of HNC I will be eternally thankful for. Although there were times I was ready to have in the past, I would not have missed a nanosecond of this HNC journey.

April is Head and Neck Cancer Awareness month, how do you want the community to be educated about this cause?

April is Head/Neck Cancer Awareness month. HNC is little-known cancer. In the big picture of numbers of people affected the numbers are statistically low, about 81,000/year in the USA. However, HNC is most often discovered, diagnosed and treated for late stage disease. We all know any type of cancer discovered at late stage means a difficult treatment. Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. As Pam Tillis says “there’s valuable real estate between here (bottom of eyes) and here (top of chest).” Because the mouth, including the tongue, the throat, airway, blood vessels, lymph nodes are all crowded into a small area of the body, even with the latest technology it is difficult to eradicate cancer without damaging these vital tissues. I would recommend, especially this month, to get a comprehensive oral cancer screening at your dentist. If your dentist does not perform oral cancer screening every visit ask why not. If they continue to not provide then get a dentist that does. This will help with earlier detection. If you use tobacco products please find a way to quit. If you have untreated acid reflux disease please see your doctor about treatment. Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the cause of some HNC tumors. Talk to your family physician about the ways you can protect yourself and your children.

You also created Faces of HNC, can you tell us more about that?

When I was seeking solutions, treatments, products I needed to help with my quality of life after HNC treatment more often than not I ran into responses like “that’s not available for your type of cancer” or “that’s not covered by insurance” or “you need to go to (fill in the blank for a large metropolitan area that is not Nashville) for that”. I started asking “Why isn’t anyone doing something about the gaps?” And then I asked myself why I wasn’t doing something about the gaps. And so Faces of HNC was conceived. I wanted to shine a light on the reality of the type of people HNC affects. All ages of people from all walks of life and life style choices, their families, their employers, their colleagues, and their communities are transformed by HNC treatment.

More frequently than not people cannot return to their chosen career or employment after completing treatment due to the effects. This creates a double hit on the social/financial equation our society counts on to keep running. People in their earning years, especially in their peak earning years, are removed from the workforce. This means not only less income taxes paid, it means less money for the individual and their family to provide for themselves, and less revenue to keep the community humming.

Additionally, people who are expected to be contributors must now rely on family or draw disability to be able to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. If the person cannot eat regular food due to effects, which is usual, then the cost of food replacement drives their cost of living up, right when their income has decreased significantly.

Faces of HNC is dedicated to raising awareness about the realities of HNC, the late stage diagnosis, the harsh treatment, the long-term effects that impact appearance, eating, drinking, speaking and breathing. Because of the combination of effects, physical, emotional, financial, the depression rate is high. We at Faces of HNC believe, one voice at a time, that letting people know about HNC they will feel motivated to speak up, to encourage availability of the needed resources to help people who need help. Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto learned of the HNC awareness work we’re doing in the middle Tennessee area and requested us to collaborate with them to create a comprehensive patient information video series to help people who have no local support to find answers they need, to help them reacquaint themselves with the person they have become. We are counting on the book “My Voice” to open opportunities to speak with social organizations, professional groups, churches, schools, and anyone who feels their voice is not being heard.To learn more please visit our website Faces of HNC.  Thank you for being a voice for voices lost.

Thanks to Debra for sharing more about her upcoming book.  To learn more about Faces of HNC, visit their Facebook page. Keep checking back here for more updates on when My Voice will be released.

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