Jerold Wilck - Patient Story
"I'm positive proof that early detection saves lives!"
— Jerold Wilck, DDS
Dr. Jerold Wilck understands and promotes the importance of oral cancer early detection screenings. Not because he is a cancer specialist, but because several years ago when he was practicing dentistry, he thought he had a common ulcer, but was surprised to learn that the sore in his mouth was cancer (squamous cell carcinoma).
Jerry's personal story with cancer began in March 2005. The now-retired dentist was preparing for his evening patient hours when he received a fax that would change the course of his life. The fax was from the Oral Pathology Department at Temple University, and it contained the results of a biopsy that he had asked his oral surgeon to take a week earlier. The test results revealed squamous cell carcinoma - a malignant cancer on his tongue.
"I recall thinking 'this can't be happening to me,'" said Dr. Wilck. "I was a 59-year-old dentist with no risk factors." He believes his training as a dentist might have saved his life. "Someone else might have ignored the [non-healing] mouth sore, but I suspected something was seriously wrong."
Jerry took immediate action and sought the professional advice of the doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center. He made an appointment with John A. Ridge, MD, PhD, FACS, Chief of Head and Neck Surgery at Fox Chase, who, along with a Fox Chase pathologist, read and assessed his test slides.
Dr. Ridge met with Jerry to review treatment options and felt the best course of action (for this small tongue cancer) would be to remove part of the tongue and lymph nodes from the neck. Removal of the tongue cancer with clear margins was designed to cure the cancers there, and removal of lymph nodes could tell whether more treatment should be recommended. In addition to the surgery, Jerry would need physical and speech therapy. He was pleased to learn after his operation that radiation and chemotherapy were not needed.
Following his surgery, Jerry stayed in the hospital for three nights and recovered at home during the next several weeks. During this period, Jerry's wife cared for him as he slowly returned to eating solid foods and worked with what he calls "the wonderful speech and physical therapists at Fox Chase Cancer Center." He even returned to his dental practice on a reduced schedule.
In December 2009, Jerry retired from his dental practice and has filled his time as a vocal and active advocate for thorough and proactive oral cancer screenings, as well as a volunteer at Fox Chase.
Shortly after his surgery, Jerry joined several organizations whose missions are to educate and lobby for more and better oral cancer screenings. Today, he continues to spread the word by addressing students at regional dental schools, participating daily in an Oral Cancer Foundation patient forum on the Internet, and by speaking and providing free oral screenings at community events and fundraisers.
"I'm positive proof that early detection saves lives!" said Jerry, with his voice now preserved. "It's been more than five years since I found out I had cancer, and as result of early detection, and Dr. Ridge's expertise, I'm thrilled to be able to report that I am cancer-free today."